|Chipper Jones has hit 19 home runs at Shea Stadium -- his most at any opposing park. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- Every which way Chipper Jones turned at Citi Field, someone wanted to thank him.
Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon presented the Atlanta star with a pricey piece of 3-D artwork. A policeman gave him a firm handshake, an usher provided a pat on the back. A man intercepted Jones in the hallway near the clubhouse, reached into a shopping bag and handed him the Braves flag that flew over Shea Stadium and a framed part of the outfield wall.
"I sure appreciate it," Jones told the memorabilia dealer.
Sure was a lot of love for someone who spent almost two decades tormenting the New York Mets.
Jeered, heckled and serenaded with derisive chants of "Lar-ry! Lar-ry!" for years, Jones arrived at the ballpark Friday for his final series in Queens. The retiring 40-year-old slugger was treated like a king, too, showered with smiles and compliments as he greeted fans behind the cage during batting practice.
"Kind of weird," he said during a pregame news conference, "for everybody to be out here for little ol' me."
Jones even drew more polite applause than boos when he was introduced before the first pitch. He stepped out of the dugout and waved his cap in acknowledgment.
But when he stepped up to hit in the opening inning, it was back to normal. Louder boos, a couple fans chanting his actual first name and a groundout. With a big chance in the third, Jones struck out with the bases loaded.
The third baseman finished 0 for 4 with a throwing error in a 3-0 win.
Prior to the first pitch, Jones said he wasn't certain what kind of reaction he would receive, adding, "I like to think it will be somewhat mixed."
Asked what he would think about Chipper Jones if he were a Mets fan, he smiled and said: "I would respect the body of work, but I would hate his guts."
Jones hit the first two home runs of his career at Shea, and liked the ballpark so much that his 8-year-old son is named Shea.
"His room has been decorated in orange and blue from the get-go," Jones said. The boy's bedroom also features two seats from Shea.
Before unveiling the piece of artwork that portrayed the now-demolished Shea -- where Jones did most of his damage -- Wilpon playfully said the eight-time All-Star assured him he wouldn't be returning to the ballpark after this weekend.
Jones has gotten plenty of presents from opposing teams on his farewell tour, including a surfboard in San Diego, the Braves flag that flew over Wrigley Field and his No. 10 from scoreboard at Fenway Park.
Jones is far from done, though. The Braves host the Mets to end this month and hope to keep playing deep into October. They lead the NL wild-card race and, who knows, could be back in New York next month for a World Series matchup with the Yankees.
In the meantime, Jones hopes to finish strong. He came into the game batting .304 -- his exact career average. Winding up well was especially important to him.
"I haven't heard anybody say you should've retired three years ago," he said. "I didn't want people to be saying it was sad to see Chipper Jones playing that last year."
Mets manager Terry Collins said there was never any doubting Jones' ability, from the days when he was "the up and coming guy."
"Everybody knew he was going to be great and he turned out that way," Collins said.
Jones particularly excelled at Shea, hitting .313 with 19 home runs -- his most at any opposing park -- and 55 RBI in 88 games. Overall, he began the weekend as a career .314 hitter against the Mets with 49 home runs and 158 RBI.
For all that success, Jones said his fondest recollection of a game against the Mets was a loss. It was in 2001, in the first game in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when players from both teams met on the field for pregame hugs and handshakes.
"Etched in my memory forever," he said.
For many years, Jones said, his New York experience was limited. Trips to the city consisted of sleeping, going to the ballpark, playing the game and going back to the hotel, rarely venturing out.
"This place was awfully intimidating," he said.
Now, he enjoys walking the streets and interacting with the same fans who boo him at the stadium.
"Nicest people on the planet," he said.
He's also worked on perfecting his New York accent, and offered a snippet during his pregame news conference.
"Yo! Chip-puh," he tried, drawing laughs.