Chipper fondly recalls inaugural Turner opener

Chipper fondly recalls inaugural Turner opener

ATLANTA -- As Chipper Jones prepared for Turner Field's final home opener on Monday afternoon, he provided a vivid description of what had transpired exactly 19 years earlier, when he had fittingly recorded the first hit in this stadium's history.

"I never rooted so hard for a pitcher to go 1-2-3 in the first inning, for Denny Neagle to go 1-2-3. And when he did, I had to dodge two more hitters," Jones said. "Even then, the pressure is on to go up and get the first hit."

After Neagle provided the Braves a perfect first inning on April 4, 1997, Cubs starting pitcher Kevin Foster retired the first two batters he faced -- Kenny Lofton and Michael Tucker. This set the stage for Jones, a 24-year-old superstar in the making who delivered a single to left field and essentially created the first of countless entries that include his name in the Turner Field record book.

"I went up there hunting a specific pitch," Jones said. "I knew what I wanted to do with it and I was lucky enough that it fell in. When I got to first, I said, 'Give me that baseball, that is the first hit in this stadium.' That ball is still on my mantel."

When Turner Field closes at the conclusion of this season, Jones will hold the stadium record for essentially every offensive category, including runs scored (725), hits (1,223), home runs (226) and RBIs (773). It has never been called "The House that Chipper Built," but whenever Braves fans reminisce about this stadium, there's a good chance the memory will include the former third baseman, who called The Ted his home park from 1997-2012.

The Braves brought Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Andruw Jones, Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff and some of the other members of the 1997 team back to Turner Field to participate in a pregame ceremony on Monday. Thus, Chipper Jones had a chance to reunite with former teammates and also look toward a future, which he hopes to enrich as he currently serves as a special assistant to general manager John Coppolella.

"It's going to be really cool to see a bunch of the guys I haven't seen in a long time and just be able to reminisce about what went on that year and what has happened since," Jones said. "It's an exciting time, as well, in that it's kind of the dawning of a new age of Braves baseball. And being able to correlate that with the move into the new stadium will be cool as well."

Since retiring at the conclusion of the 2012 season, Jones has reflected on the many great experiences he had at Turner Field. One memory that will forever stand out was created on Sept. 2, 2012, when he capped a five-run ninth-inning comeback against the Phillies with a three-run, walk-off home run against Jonathan Papelbon. This memorable shot accounted for the last home run of the beloved third baseman's career.

"I can't tell you how many times in the four years since I've retired that I've kind of gone back through the archives and relived that moment because it was a spine-tingling moment," Jones said.

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