Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sports Talk: A little loyalty in the pros makes his exit

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Oct. 17, 2012. 
I have probably admitted before that I am more of a college athletics fan than a pro-sports fan. There are a few reasons for this, one, of course, being that our great state has no NBA, NFL or MLB teams.
Additionally, though, it is very rare for a college athlete to ever play for more than one school. This may occur more often on the lower division levels, but usually the school the athlete chooses post-high school is the one they stick with until they graduate or go pro.
Because of this, as a fan you are not only loyal to a specific team but players as well. On the professional level, trades occur and contracts expire. Perhaps this is not a big deal to many fans because players win fan love at the college level and who they play for doesn’t matter to their biggest fans. Maybe it is just something we have gotten used to in general.
But no one can deny that it’s hard to see “your” player turn around and sport the colors of a rival and feel OK about it. In Kentucky, the best comparison might be to look at what happened when Rick Pitino returned to NCAA basketball as Louisville’s head coach after the seasons of success he brought to U.K.
Just as it is rare to hear of a college player to switch schools, it is rare to have stand-out professional athletes spend the entirety of their career under one name. However, a little less than two weeks ago Chipper Jones finished his 19-year Major League Baseball career as an Atlanta Brave, the same team he first suited up with in 1993 for his MLB game debut.
Jones announced his retirement last March and ended his career with a statistical record that will, without a doubt, send him to the Hall of Fame in no time. 468 home runs .303 batting average; 1,619 runs.
For me, this all-star third baseman’s feat is his tenure in Atlanta. He is a star that only Braves’ fans can lay claim to and there will never be question as to what uniform he should be remembered wearing.
Other famous one-uniform MLB stars include Tony Gynn of the San Diego Padres, Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles, Robin Yount of the Milwaukee Brewers and Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies. I’m sure Yankees fans are crossing their fingers that Derek Jeter lands on the list of rarities when his retirement comes.
While my husband’s love for the Cardinals made me happy to see St. Louis defeat the Braves on Oct. 5, I wish the win had not been at the expense of a sour conclusion to Chipper’s career.  I would think and hope that no fan would wish that on a stand-up athlete.
The Braves not only lost 3-6, but an error in the fourth inning by Jones led to three runs in the inning. Additionally, a highly disputed infield fly rule calling, fizzled the Braves shot for a rally in the eighth. The one thing Jones had going for him was his final at-bat: a bat-shattering single.
It is very probably Chipper Jones had several good seasons left in him but he’ll end a long career on a season with numbers that show he’s still ‘got it’. For his sake, I hope he sees it that way and does not look to that single last game, where he openly took the blame for his team’s loss due to his fourth inning error. I have no doubt that Braves fan remain proud of their loyal third baseman of 19 years.

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