Many moons ago, I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania. I hated it with a bloody passion. We moved there in March of my sophomore year of high school, which in and of itself was traumatic. I'm the first to admit that I didn't exactly give it a chance, but it just wasn't for me.
When we moved there I was a huge Chicago Cubs fan, courtesy of my all-time favorite athlete, Ryne Sandberg. I used to be able to watch this glorious second-baseman play rather frequently, because we were lucky enough to get WGN on our TV. Then we moved to Pennsylvania. Our town didn't even have cable when we first moved there, although it did pop up fairly soon thereafter. Unfortunately, WGN was not an option. I had two choices: I could watch the Pittsburgh Pirates on the local station, or I could watch the Atlanta Braves on TBS. I hated all things PA, so the clear winner was the Braves. At that time, they were the "Never-Say-Die Atlanta Braves". And by "never say die", what they really meant was "never win a game".
Sometimes though, finishing in last place can be a blessing. And sometimes, not getting what you want is the greatest thing in the world. The last place Braves had the first pick in the 1990 amateur draft. They had been seriously considering drafting pitcher Todd Van Poppel, but he told them he wouldn't sign with the team if picked. The Braves second choice was Larry Wayne Jones. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It would be several years before Chipper Jones would step up to the plate as an Atlanta Brave. And it would take nineteen years for him to step away. My sister and I share a Chipper passion that is at the forefront of so many memories of the last twenty years. One time, we went to a Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium because the Braves were playing. She went armed with a sign that said "CHIPPER MVP". During a pitching change, she held up the sign and yelled "Hey Chipper!" He looked up, read the sign, and tipped his hat to her. She gave him a huge grin and a thumbs up, and he returned the gesture. We didn't stop talking about it for the entire 90 minute car ride home.
Last year I had to watch Chipper retire. And I had to watch the last game of his career get mucked up by the lousy officiating. Tonight, I watched the Atlanta Braves retire his jersey.
Echoing the sentiments of every Braves fan in the country, Chipper Jones thanked Todd Van Poppel when he made his speech tonight.
Here's to second choices!