PRESSURE-TREATED

October 15, 1995

Everyone in tiny Pierson, Fla., knew that Chipper Jones was a
can't-miss kid, even when he was only 11 years old. As an
eighth-grader he started on the high school varsity baseball
team. By 15 he was being touted as a future major leaguer. As a
10th-grader he transferred to a private school 90 miles from
home, causing bitter disappointment in Pierson. At 18 he was
regarded as the nation's best amateur player.

This explains why Jones, the Atlanta Braves' rookie third
baseman, could have been the unofficial MVP last week of his
first big league postseason series. This explains how a kid from
a town that had no stoplights could enter this week's National
League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds without a
hint of anxiety. "I've been through a lot of pressure games in
my life," Jones says. "Some guys live for crunch time. I'm one
of them."

Just ask the Colorado Rockies, who were knocked out of the
playoffs by Atlanta. In Game 1 Jones hit two home runs,
including a two-out blast in the ninth inning that gave the
Braves a 5-4 win. He also made a game-saving defensive play with
a brilliant diving stop that turned a potential run-scoring hit
into a force-out. In Game 2 Jones led off the ninth with a
double, igniting a four-run rally that sent the Rockies to a 7-4
loss. He delivered another huge hit in the third inning of Game
4, when, with the Braves trailing 3-0, he doubled home two runs
and then scored on Fred McGriff's two-run homer; Atlanta never
trailed again and won 10-4. Jones ended the series batting .389
with four RBIs and three standout defensive plays, despite
playing with a sore left knee and an aching back.

It was a performance that was in keeping with his regular
season, for which he should be awarded National League Rookie of
the Year honors next month. Hitting third most of the season,
Jones belted 23 homers and drove in 86 runs. "Every time I see
him he impresses me more," says Rocky shortstop Walt Weiss.

Everyone in Pierson knew Chipper and his father, Larry, who was
an algebra teacher and the baseball coach at Taylor
Junior-Senior High. But when Chipper reached the eighth grade,
Larry quit coaching temporarily because he knew that his son was
good enough to beat out a senior, and that controversy wouldn't
be good for him, his boy or the community. "He stepped down, and
I beat out the guy anyway," says Chipper.

Later Larry, who still teaches at Taylor, "started seeing little
bitty favors being done for Chipper--cutting him some slack in
class. That wasn't fair to him or to the other kids." So Larry
enrolled Chipper, then a sophomore, at The Bolles School in
Jacksonville. "People I used to consider friends still won't
talk to me for doing that," Larry says. Chipper called home
crying his first five days at Bolles, claiming that the workload
was too much. "I told him, 'Coming home is not an option,'"
Larry says. "Kids give what we demand of them, not what we ask
of them. A lot of kids would have quit. But he got a burr in his
saddle. He made a 3.2 GPA the first year, then maintained it."

Chipper also led Bolles to three straight state Class AA
baseball championship games, with his new school eliminating
Taylor from the playoffs each year. "There was a lot of pressure
to do well in those games," he said. "I couldn't go away to
another school, come back and lose. That was the most pressure
I've ever felt until the Colorado series."

After Jones's senior season the Braves made him the first pick
in the 1990 amateur draft. Formal contract negotiations took
less than an hour, whereupon Jones signed for only $350,000--less
than market value--because he wanted to get his career started
immediately. "I wanted to earn the money, not have an agent get
it for me," says Jones, who played in 44 Gulf Coast League games
that summer.

Jones was penciled in as Atlanta's Opening Day leftfielder and
number 3 hitter in 1994, but he tore up his left knee in spring
training and was lost for the season. This year, playing third
base, he has been the Braves' most consistent performer. "People
have always expected big things of Chipper Jones," he said. "And
I've always answered the bell."

--TIM KURKJIAN

COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA Still a can't-miss kid, Jones shone in the clutch at bat and in the field against Colorado. [Chipper Jones]

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