Commentary

All atwitter

How did Chipper Jones learn to let go in his final season? He tweeted.

Originally Published: September 4, 2012
By Chris Jones | ESPN The Magazine

tkIstvan BanyaiChipper Jones first joined Twitter to prove that he was, indeed, the real Chipper Jones.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Sept. 17 Franchise Issue. Subscribe today!

CHIPPER JONES BEGAN this season with a plan: Back in March, he announced that this year would be his last. He had nearly retired once before, at the end of 2010, only to change his mind. This time, there would be no reversals. There would be no accidents. He looked at the schedule for his Braves and committed what remained of his baseball future to memory. His 19th regular season would end with a three-game set against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. There would be a Bobblehead Night in August, and maybe one last October, and between now and then he would play baseball as often as his knees and back would allow him, and he would be methodical during each step of his goodbye, the sort of man who would pick out his own grave site, leaving nothing to chance.

That was before July 24, when he logged onto Twitter for the first time, @RealCJ10. About that, he didn't really have a choice. An impostor was pretending to be him, making false promises about donations to the victims of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. "I just wanted to establish that I was the real me," Jones says today. "I wasn't planning on tweeting that much."

In hindsight, his first tweet -- "Yes, the ol man finally got the twitta!" -- was a sign of the weirdness that was to come. The first whispers started: Is Chipper Jones illiterate? Did he get beaned last night? Every night, Jones made Twitter part of his rigid routine, and every morning, a growing band of linguists tried to translate. (There isn't a name yet for his language. I'd like to nominate Chipperish -- Chipper plus English. Also, it rhymes with gibberish.) The meaning behind some of his words -- home run synonyms like "yicketty" and "mammo" -- became the subject of passionate debates. Sometimes it wasn't even clear what was a noun and what was a verb.

Jones isn't the first baseball player with a knack for invented vocabulary. Merriam-Webster recently credited Gary Carter with the earliest recorded usage of "F-bomb," in 1988. But even Jones' own manager, Fredi Gonzalez, has been bewildered by it. After Jones tweeted "Got a date wit the Doc tmrw" on July 28, Gonzalez said he'd "tossed and turned all night," fearful that his top hitter had felt something pop. He was talking about facing Roy Halladay. "Yeah, that happened," Jones says with a smile. "You would expect me to baffle some people who aren't in the game, but the people who are in the game -- you would expect them to put two and two together."

But by then, Jones and his Twitter feed, surging past 100,000 followers, had made simple math impossible. Logic and precision were replaced by a wonderful randomness. One August night, Jones complained about the TV not working in his New York hotel room, and a guy showed up at his door to fix it. ("See what happens when u vent a tad?") He soon began detouring from his strict regimen of postgame dissections to explore larger metaphysical questions ("Do you have a good heart? I do, always will!") and how he occupies his idle hours ("It's freaken shark week, people!!!!"). Day by day, you could almost feel Jones' grip relaxing. Here was this very particular, superstitious man, 40 years old and with a rhythm so set his appearances at his locker or in the batting cage can be timed to the minute, finally swinging free.

In that way, Jones' Twitter feed has become a testament to happy accidents, a rambling, running accompaniment for the end of a Hall of Fame career. "Every time I hit a homer or do something really cool, I think to myself: Savor it, because it could be the last one," he says. "I had a five-hit game a few weeks back" -- he has no word for a five-hit game; "gangsta s--," clubhouse neighbor Eric Hinske helpfully offers -- "and in all likelihood, that was my last one. That was a night when I went home and I didn't really want to go to sleep, because I didn't want the day to end."

All of this will end, of course, because that's the plan. The only guarantee is one last afternoon in Pittsburgh. "Every once in a while I look forward, and I get a little misty," Jones says. "I can see the big hole that will be there." He's played baseball since he was 4 years old; he doesn't know much about the new world that awaits him. He's not sure whether it will include Twitter. But even if Chipperish ends along with this farewell season, its lessons will last far longer: For Jones, it's become the language of letting go.

Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.

Chris Jones is the back-page columnist for ESPN The Magazine. He is also a Writer at Large for Esquire. Follow him on Twitter @MySecondEmpire.