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Chipper eying rehab, not retirement

Chipper eying rehab, not retirement

ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones has overcome the initial shock he felt when he was informed that he had once again suffered a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Now the Braves' third baseman is ready to dedicate himself to the grueling rehab process that will provide him a chance to begin playing again next year.

"I'm going to try my best to rehab it, get it ready for Spring Training, and we'll see how it feels after that," Jones said during a Friday afternoon press conference. "I think it would be wrong of me to make a decision to quit right now. Obviously, I'm pretty distraught about everything that has taken place in the last 48, 72 hours."

Braves orthopedist Dr. Marvin Royster will surgically repair Jones' knee Saturday at 10 a.m ET. The 38-year-old third baseman is facing a six-month rehab process that he believes will be much less daunting than the rehab process he experienced when Royster repaired this same injury before the start of the 1994 season.

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Because the ACL is now being repaired in an arthroscopic manner, Jones won't have to dread those mornings he experienced 16 years ago, when it took him nearly 20 minutes to straighten his left leg. Nor will he have to deal with the effects that were experienced courtesy of the incision that was made during the initial surgery.

"When I was 23 years old, I lost a step because of this surgery," Jones said. "If I lose another step, I'll be going backwards." 

Jones suffered this latest knee injury while making one of the most acrobatic defensive plays of his career. After fielding Astros outfielder Hunter Pence's grounder, he ranged into foul territory, jumped in the air off his left leg and made a pinpoint throw across the diamond to record the out.

While some were marveling at one of the finest defensive gems of his career, Jones was on the ground and experiencing significant discomfort.

"I think I did it when I planted to jump," Jones said. "But I looked and I haven't gotten that much air in 20 years. I would think if it snapped right then and there, I would have buckled up right then and there and I would have never gotten the throw off. I can distinctly remember being in the air and having already felt the pop. So I'm convinced it was when I took off."

When Royster informed Jones of this latest tear Thursday morning, the veteran third baseman remained silent for what he approximated to be five minutes. A few hours earlier, he had prepared for an MRI exam with the belief that he had sprained his knee and possibly injured either the posterior or medial collateral ligaments in his knee.

"It was shocking," Jones said. "It's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy having to go through all this rehab, being so extensive. It is what it is and I've made up my mind that I'm going to go through the rehab process like I was trying to get ready for Spring Training."

When Jones arrives at the Braves' Spring Training complex next year, he'll realize the oddity of knowing that for the first time in his career, he won't be playing for Bobby Cox. As the Braves manager prepares to retire at the end of this season, his club is in the midst of helping him experience a memorable conclusion to his career.

Entering Friday, the Braves held a two-game lead over the second-place Phillies in the National League East race. While Jones plans to be around the club the rest of the season offering support and acting like an extra coach, he realizes that the thrill might not be the same as it was when each of the first 11 full seasons of his career included celebrating a division championship.

"We're in first place and I think we're going to the playoffs," Jones said. "The only reason I say that is this team is very unique. We've got ballplayers in that clubhouse, ballplayers with some heart and guts. It's a bunch of guys that I'd go to war with. That's what's going to be so disappointing, that I'm not going to be in that foxhole with them."

If Spring Training arrives and Jones gains the sense that he will not be able to produce at a desired level, he may opt to retire. But after proving to once again be an integral part of the Braves' lineup over the past two months, this isn't the time or way he wanted to say goodbye to his Hall of Fame career.

When Jones was batting .228 with three homers and a .341 slugging percentage through the first 51 games he played this season, he talked to the Braves about the possibility of retiring at the end of this season. But while hitting .307 with seven homers and a .520 slugging percentage in the 41 games that have followed, he has given himself further reason to be motivated through the six-month rehab process that will follow his surgery.

"I don't think I would have made a decision if this would have happened two months ago, because you never want to make such a drastic decision when you're so down in the dumps," Jones said. "I can honestly sit here today and say that I'm looking forward to getting this thing ready and seeing what we have in Spring Training next year."

If Jones needed further motivation to continue playing, he received a boost via a text that his mother sent Friday morning.

"She goes, 'I just want you to know that I love you,'" Jones said. "And after that, she said, 'Now get your head out of your butt and get it done.'"

On his way to realizing his goal to join Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray as one of the most successful switch hitters the game has ever seen, Jones has won an MVP (1999), notched a batting title (2008), earned six All-Star selections and gained two Silver Slugger Awards.

Jones stands as the only switch-hitter in Major League history to compile 300 homers and maintain a .300 career batting average. But before he says goodbye to his career, he wants one more opportunity to celebrate a World Series title like he did at the end of his 1995 rookie season.

"There really isn't anything else I can do in this game individually that I haven't already done," Jones said. "The one thing that keeps me coming back is being able to punctuate it with another championship. I started it with a championship. I'd love to punctuate it with another. That's what drives me."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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