Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Brant Sanderlin) MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT, Associated Press
ATLANTA — Chipper Jones rode to Turner Field for what could be the final time as a player, along with his mother, father and two of his young sons.
Along the way, it hit Jones just how calm he was feeling.
"I turned around and told my dad, 'This is why I know I'm ready to go. I'm not even nervous,'" Jones said Friday.
The 40-year-old third baseman was taking the field for potentially the last time in his nearly two-decade-long career as the Atlanta Braves faced the St. Louis Cardinals in a winner-take-all wild-card game.
While it might have been a big deal to the fans of Atlanta, Jones didn't see it that way. He sounded like it was just another game, not the end — maybe — of a career that many expect will eventually take him to the Hall of Fame.
"I'm one of those guys who likes to look out the windshield, not the rear-view mirror," Jones said. "I'm not going to get overly mushy here. I'm going to stay focused on the task at hand. Nobody cares what I did in 1995 (a World Series title as a rookie) or what I did in 1999 (the NL MVP award). It's all about what you do October 5th, 2012."
Long a favorite of the media because of his candidness and thoughtful comments, Jones didn't disappoint at a news conference held just before the Braves went out for batting practice, his sons — 8-year-old Shea and 7-year-old Tristan, both wearing red Braves jerseys — standing off to the side of the podium.
He blasted baseball's expanded playoff format, which this year includes a fifth team in each league and an extra round — a one-game playoff between the wild cards. Baltimore was facing Texas in the AL game.
"If we're going to continue to let teams in year after year ... let's just have everybody in," Jones said, his drawling voice oozing with sarcasm. "Let's play 162 games to seed yourselves and then we'll let the Astros (baseball's worst team) have a shot at it and whoever else wants a shot at it. A six- or seven-game winning streak and you're the world champion.
"A single-elimination, March Madness tournament," he went on, struggling to suppress a grin. "I'm trying to give everybody an opportunity to make the playoffs. I mean, think of the excitement in every town today, knowing that all you have to do is win however many games ... and you win. Anybody could do that."
The Braves hadn't won a playoff round since 2001, losing their last six postseason series. For Jones, it was his first playoff appearance in seven years. He was recovering from knee surgery when the Braves got in as a wild card in 2010, losing in the division series to the San Francisco Giants. His only World Series title remains the one he celebrated as a star-in-the-making 17 years ago.
"It's like riding a bike," Jones said. "I'm not nervous in the least for this game for the simple fact that I'm confident in my abilities when I walk up to the plate."
Even though it was hard to tell from his laid-back demeanor, Jones was excited about playing in a game that essentially had the feel of a Game 7.
"I don't remember a Game 7 here in Atlanta," he said. "Maybe I'm wrong. Has there been?"
A reporter mentioned the 1996 NL championship series, when the Braves completed a comeback from a 3-1 deficit with a 15-0 rout — of the Cardinals, no less.
"Oh yeah," Jones said. "I forgot about that. I shouldn't have forgotten that one."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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