KISSIMMEE, Fla. --- Chipper Jones was done. Through. Ready to go home and spend some time with his four boys.
Yet here he is, sitting at that familiar locker in a corner of the Atlanta Braves' spring training clubhouse.
The hair is flecked with gray now. The face is wrinkled and weathered. There are days when he shuffles around like an 80-year-old, looking as though it takes every bit of strength just to put one leg in front of another.
Jones, it seemed for so long, was one of those ballplayers who would never grow old. Time has caught up with Chipper. He put off retirement last year, but he'll mark his 39th birthday before April is done.
He knows there's a lot more games behind him than in front of him. He's come to grips with that, better than one might think considering baseball is about all he's ever done.
"I don't think I'll have as much problem with it as most people," Jones said. "I've actually been looking forward to it. I still love coming in here. I love the camaraderie with the guys. I love being with my fraternity brothers, so to speak. But I also have a lot to look forward to once the game is over for me."
Jones, who came so close to retiring last June, has found his passion again. It returned in the heat of summer, when that tiny white sphere began to look as big as a beach ball, flying off his bat like it did in his prime.
Interestingly enough, when Jones went down in August with a season-ending knee injury, that ensured he would come back for another year instead of hanging up his cleats. He needed a goal in front of him to get through the grind of treatment and rehab. Spring training, which started at exactly the same time he reached the sixth-month mark for getting cleared for full activity, was the perfect motivator.
"I figured if I showed up down here in constant pain, I'd probably hang it up," Jones said. "But I feel great. I'm swinging the bat good. I'm moving around good. And I think we have a really good team. That excites me more than anything."
The Braves, who made the playoffs without him, wonder what they can do with him. Jones still has two more years on his contract, and the plan now is to play it out.
"When I'm done, I'm going to look in the mirror," Jones said, "and be ecstatic with what I've accomplished."