Rookie Jones chip off the old block Braves third baseman wise beyond his years


CLEVELAND -- The Atlanta Braves completed their workout last evening and groundskeepers moved to assume control of Jacobs Field, to drag and water the infield and cover home plate with a protective tarp. Preparation for Game 3 of the World Series tonight.

But before they could get to work, Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones had some experimenting to do. For nearly 10 minutes, he stood at home plate and, one by one, rolled balls down the foul line.

Some on the dirt, to see whether they would break foul or fair. Some on the lip of the grass, to see if the ledge would hold them up. Some into the thick of the grass, to see how the grass would affect them. Some fast, some slow. Preparation for Game 3 tonight, when the Braves will try to take a 3-0 lead over the Cleveland Indians in the best-of-seven Series.

This is the type of stuff veterans will do as they learn that diligence pays off. Chipper Jones, 23, is a rookie. Sort of.

Jones, who batted .389 in the divisional series against Colorado and .438 vs. Cincinnati in the National League Championship Series, plays with such savvy, intelligence and confidence that teammates say he seems much more experienced.

"He plays like he's a 30-year-old," said Steve Avery.

Tom Glavine said: "I guess as far as rookies are concerned, he's not your typical rookie. He goes out and plays a veteran-type game."

There's more to what Glavine is saying than the numbers Jones accumulated this year -- a .265 average, 23 homers and 86 RBIs, production that could earn him the NL Rookie of the Year Award, if Hideo Nomomania does not prevail.

Jones is relaxed, in control at all times. Whereas other young players, like Cleveland's Manny Ramirez, seem anxious at the plate, Jones takes pitches and works the count patiently. He wouldn't be hitting third in the Atlanta lineup, as he does, without showing such prowess.

And because teammates recognized his maturity, they respected his opinion when Jones told reporters early in the season that the Braves lacked a vocal leader. In response, the players called a team meeting and Jones was chastised -- but not because they thought he was wrong. Just wrong in taking the problem to the media.

"Some guys expressed their anger a little," Jones said, "and others said it needed to be said. What I saw, as a guy who's used to winning in the minor leagues and winning all of his life, is that we got off to a slow start. I was used to seeing this team win, and I just didn't know if things were getting done the right way.

"Maybe I spoke a little hastily [in public], and I admit to that. But maybe in the same sense, it might've lit a fire under some guys and got things started in the right direction."

Glavine said that one good thing that came out of the meeting "is we sat down and talked."

The Braves are a team built around established veterans, such as Glavine and Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, Fred McGriff and Mark Lemke. They could all treat Jones like a newcomer, a rookie who should be seen and not heard.

It's obvious, however, from the way the others react to him, that he is regarded as a peer. "I think the reason why is that everybody recognized the fact that this guy can really play," Avery said. "He knows the game."

Jones has been studying baseball for years. His father coached baseball in Florida, and Jones became an exceptional prep star, the Braves drafting him with the first pick in the 1990 draft. He starred at every level of the minors, and so certain was Atlanta of his talents that it allowed Terry Pendleton to leave as a free agent after the 1994 season -- even though Jones missed all of 1994 after blowing out a knee in spring training.

Closer Mark Wohlers said: "It's like he's meant to play this game."

That is, it's like he's meant to play the game well.

Series comebacks

Teams that have rebounded from a 2-0 deficit to win the World Series:

1921 .. N.Y. .. (NL) 5, .. N.Y. .. (AL) ... 3

1955 .. Brk. .. (NL) 4, .. N.Y. .. (AL) ... 3

1956 .. N.Y. .. (AL) 4, .. Brk. .. (NL) ... 3

1958 .. N.Y. .. (AL) 4, .. Milw. .. (NL) .. 3

1965 .. L.A. .. (NL) 4, .. Minn. .. (AL) .. 3

1971 .. Pitt. .. (NL) 4, .. Orioles . (AL) .. 3

1978 .. N.Y. .. (AL) 4, .. L.A. .. (NL) ... 2

1981 .. L.A. .. (NL) 4, .. N.Y. .. (AL) .. 2

1985 .. K.C. .. (AL) 4, .. St. Louis .. (NL) .. 3

1986 .. N.Y. .. (NL) 4, .. Boston .. (AL) .. 3

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