In the spring of 1990, a Major League Baseball lockout had just ended. A normal spring training was being abbreviated so they could play the full 162-game schedule.
I was a substitute sports reporter in West Palm Beach to chronicle a woeful bunch of Atlanta Braves. Jim Presley was at third base. Jeff Blauser was the shortstop. They were managed by the incomparable -- and I mean that in the worst possible way -- Russ Nixon.
I remember a conversation I was fortunate enough to overhear that shortened spring. Waiting along the right-field fence of an outer practice field to interview the greatest Brave of them all -- Hank Aaron -- I listened as Aaron talked to Bobby Cox, then the general manager.
Aaron asked Cox about his afternoon plans. Cox said something about going up the coast to take another look at this high school shortstop prospect in Jacksonville. I remember something about "that Jones kid."
That was the fist time I ever heard Larry Jones' name. Nearly two dozen years later, those of us in Braves Country know and love him as Chipper, a lifelong Brave who is now beat to hell from 20 years of big-league baseball.
The reason for recounting this story today is simple -- and even timely. Chipper begins his final regular-season homestand tonight against the Miami Marlins.
For the next six days, it's all about Chipper, who found a home at third base and in the hearts of many Braves fans, especially the girls.
Both of my daughters -- Carmen and Joy Beth -- have had No. 10 Braves jerseys at one time or another.
Those of us in Columbus know Chipper well. Since the Braves made him the top pick in the 1990 draft, Chipper has been on our television sets many nights. He came through here as an error-prone Class-A shortstop with those hated Macon Braves.
The first time my eldest daughter, Carmen, saw Chipper play was at Golden Park -- she was in a stroller. She is a college senior today, living within walking distance of Turner Field.
Chipper is not without his faults -- like all of us. He's a ballplayer, not a role model, to quote Charles Barkley.
But one thing about Chipper is he belongs to us because he is one of us. He has never been anything but an Atlanta Brave. He has never been anything but a son of the South, a hunting, tobacco-chewing, switch-hitting good ol' boy.
And in five years, he will likely be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
And he's doing something ballplayers rarely do. He's leaving the game with us wanting more.
While you think about that, I will think about something else.
For me, these six games against the Marlins and Mets are as important as any since Chipper helped the Braves win the World Series in 1995.
As Chipper walks away, it is just another sign that many among us are getting a little long in the tooth.
Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, firstname.lastname@example.org.