Chipper Jones has seen many Atlanta Braves players reach the major leagues in his three decades with the organization.
CAK graduate Spencer Strider stands out from the pack until Jones.
“We’ve never had that flamethrower, and Spencer Strider is that guy,” Jones said. “He’s fun to watch. It’s so cool to see all the fake mustaches in the stands whenever he pitches. He’s kind of a cult hero in Atlanta.”
Jones, a Braves legend and National Baseball Hall of Famer, was the featured speaker at the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame Thursday at the Knoxville Convention Center.
Strider is – as Jones suggested – a budding legend in his own right, and a “monster” in Jones’ estimation. The starting pitcher is 7-4 with a 2.95 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 100⅔ innings in his rookie season.
Clemson’s fourth-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft is one of the main reasons the Braves are among the favorites to win the World Series for the second year in a row.
“I have a lot of experience playing in October,” Jones said. “A guy that can hit people and limit contact in the postseason, those guys are dominant as you saw with a guy like John Smoltz. He was even more successful than the other two (Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux) because he had so much swing and miss in his game. Spencer Strider has that.”
Jones, 50, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the class of 2018. The 1999 National League MVP had a .303 batting average with 2,726 hits, 468 home runs and 1,623 runs in 19 seasons with the Braves. He won the World Series in 1995 and was an eight-time All-Star.
The Pierson, Fla., native said he comes to Knoxville maybe six times a year. He has a few friends for whom he loses “a lot of money on the golf course.” He played the Tennessee National in Loudon on Thursday and ran into former UT star and Colorado Rockies great Todd Helton.
Jones, the No. 1 pick in the 1990 MLB draft, reflected on his career during a 25-minute onstage session with Bob Kesling, the voice of the Vols. He told stories about Maddux, who played minor-league baseball in Knoxville, and how he became a switch hitter.
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Jones has remained associated with the Braves as a hitting consultant since retiring. Atlanta is in second place in the NL East behind the New York Mets, a franchise Jones has tormented during his career. He named one of Shea’s seven sons after the Mets’ former stadium, Shea Stadium.
He has three sons still at home, but he’s paying close attention to the Braves — and Strider — as the regular season heads into its final month.
“If you told me at the beginning of the season that we’d be on the cusp of 30 games over .500 at the end of August and we weren’t in first place in our division, I would have had a hard time believing it,” Jones said. “The New York Mets are a really, really good ball club. It will be hard to chase them. We do our best.
“The bottom line is just to win and get in. Like we showed last year, if you get hot at the right time, anything can happen.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @By MikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will give you access to everything.
This article originally appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel: Spencer Strider: Atlanta Braves pitcher a ‘monster’ says Chipper Jones