ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones knows that when he signs a six-year, $90 million with the Atlanta Braves in the next few days, his life will change forever.
Expectations will rise, demands on his time will increase, and perceptions of him will be altered.
But, he insists, one of the richest contracts in baseball history won't change him.
"It allows me to take care of my family, and it gives me a tremendous amount of stability," he said. "It gives me an opportunity to do all the things I've wanted to do outside of baseball, but I don't think it will change me as a person. I've had certain things that have happened in my past that have kept me grounded and hopefully it will continue to keep me grounded.
"I've had a humbling last couple of years, so I'm just going to mind my business and do my job. I'm going to go out and play relaxed and just have fun."
Jones, who admitted publicly to fathering an illegitimate child two years ago and has divorced and married again, says any pressure he's felt this year, knowing he could become a free agent after the season, will largely vanish after he signs.
"I think (signing) actually takes some of the pressure off," he said. "So many times in the past I worried about things off the field. Now things are really set. I think it takes all the pressure off me, to be honest with you.
"Expectations are always going to be high when you play for this team and hit in the middle of the lineup. That's the way it is. They expect me to go out and drive in 100 and score 100 and play solid defense."
Jones, the reigning National League MVP, will average $15 million a year with the new deal. He will become the highest-paid Brave, surpassing Greg Maddux's $12.5 million salary for 2001, and match Kevin Brown's pay as baseball's top salary. He says he doesn't expect his teammates to treat him any differently, but he knows the fans' perception of him probably will change.
"I don't think my teammates will look at me differently because they know how hard it is to play this game," he said. "The people outside the game, the fans, I'll have to take a certain amount of guff from them because you're going to go through peaks and valleys in this game, no matter what.
"People are going to expect what they want to expect. I can't control what people expect of me. I know they expect a lot. But it's a little unreasonable to expect a home run every at-bat."
Jones knows his biggest challenge is guarding against trying to justify the contract. There's a laundry list of players who have signed huge contracts, then put up mediocre numbers because they tried too hard to show they deserved the money.
Maddux knows. He fell into that trap in Chicago and learned from the experience.
"The first year I made money with the Cubs, I felt I had to be better," he said. "I did things differently. I tried harder, tried to be finer. Your life doesn't change that much, but you're perceived differently. I felt like I was obligated to do more, and it affected my performance on the field.
"After a while you start to realize the money doesn't change the player. The only difference is you can buy two of everything, instead of one."
Jones' new deal dwarfs the four-year, $8.75 million deal he signed in March 1996 that included an option for this season at $4.75 million. This one leaves him feeling like a lottery winner.
"It feels like everything that I've done, there's some worth behind it," he said. "I've been working since I was 6 or 7 years old to get to a point where I could be able to command enough money to take care of myself, take care of my kids and my kid's kids if I want to. There's not many people in this world that can say that.
"For this to have started out when I was 6 or 7, me having a dream, it's extremely gratifying. I'm on the brink now, and that's a great feeling."
Jones' deal, the richest in Braves history, will include a pair of option years, meaning the contract could keep him in Atlanta for the next eight years. That will give him the opportunity to remain with the Braves for his entire career, something few players have done since the advent of free agency.
"It's a great feeling because there's not many players who can say they spent even the majority of their career with one team," he said. "This contract will be over when I'm 34, possibly when I'm 36, and there will be a decision to be made then as to whether I want to further my career."
After signing the deal, Jones doesn't plan to make many major purchases. He does have his heart set on a Texas ranch, which he'll use to pursue his passion for hunting, as well as housing a few of his mother's horses.
"That's a nice luxury," he said. "It's something I've dreamed about ever since I started hunting. It's something my father and I have talked about for a long, long time, and now we are able to do it. To be able to involve him in it is awesome."
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