Chipper Jones’ office in his Canton home has been turned into a makeshift TV studio.
“ESPN spent about 10 days to two weeks sending all the equipment down here, a little at a time,” Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ve got a 34-inch monitor on my desk where I can watch games in real time. They have iPads set up, lighting set up, a laptop.
“I have to connect all this stuff with ESPN in Bristol (Conn.), so it’s quite a production just to get me up and running.”
Eight years after his last season with the Braves, two years after his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame, Jones is a rookie again.
At age 48, the former third baseman is starting his first season as a game analyst on ESPN’s baseball telecasts, a debut delayed four months as the coronavirus pandemic shut down MLB. He will work ESPN’s exclusive national telecast of the Braves-Mets game Sunday night.
Under normal circumstances, he would broadcast the game from New York’s Citi Field. But amid the pandemic, ESPN announcers are calling MLB games remotely, so Jones will be “all by my lonesome” in his home office, hoping to navigate the considerable technology and stay on the air.
“Oh, I’m am idiot (about technology), an absolute idiot,” Jones said. “They’ve had to walk me through this step-by-step via phone calls or texts pretty much every time we’ve had any kind of transmission out of here. I’m learning, and I’m learning fast, but before this past week I was an absolute idiot.
“If something goes wrong, I wouldn’t really count on me getting me back on the air in a matter of seconds. But fortunately, I’ve got a bunch of people’s phone numbers at my fingertips to be able to try to expedite the process.”
Aside from the technology, Jones noted that his office features “a nice little backdrop” for TV – shelves of memorabilia from his playing career, including the 1999 National League MVP trophy.
After calling two games on ESPN during this season-opening weekend – with the first, Friday’s Braves-Mets game, blacked out in the Atlanta TV market in deference to the local broadcast on Fox Sports South – Jones expects to settle into a routine of working one game a week during the abbreviated season.
ESPN’s announcers for Sunday night’s Braves-Mets game will be scattered across the country, all describing the action off camera feeds displayed on monitors: play-by-play announcer Jon “Boog” Sciambi at the studio in Bristol, Conn., Jones at his home in Canton and fellow analyst Rick Sutcliffe at his home in San Diego.
“It’s quite the challenge with this remote setup,” Jones said. “You can’t tap each other on the leg if you want to say something.”
ESPN expects Jones, an eight-time National League All-Star as a player, to be a star in his new role, too.
“In three words, he has presence,” Phil Orlins, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for baseball, told the AJC. “Some people have it; some people don’t have it. He is comfortable with himself. He’s natural, he’s authentic, but he likes to laugh, man. He doesn’t mind being the center of attention a little bit.
“Beyond that, his Hall of Fame stature and his popularity in the game and in your market in particular, in the Southeast in particular, is just tremendous and obviously attractive,” Orlins said. “He is smart. He has got recall. He has a clarity to his delivery that I’ll say is not easily taught. He speaks slowly, clearly, finishes his thoughts. He doesn’t use a million words to say one thing. He has got every attribute we would want.”
Jones generally won’t be on “Sunday Night Baseball” telecasts, where Alex Rodriguez is the regular analyst, but drew the Braves-Mets assignment because ESPN is televising two games on the season’s first Sunday and didn’t want Rodriguez to work the Mets game while he’s in the process of trying to buy the team.
Besides, who could resist having Chipper Jones on a game between his team of 19 years and against the team he tormented more than any other? “It is kind of ironic, isn’t it?” said Jones, who hit .309 with 49 home runs and 159 RBIs in 245 career games against the Mets.
Asked if he’ll discuss that history on the air, Jones said: “I personally won’t (bring it up), but if somebody asks me about it, I’ll certainly comment on it. I named one of my kids Shea (the name of the Mets’ former stadium). For a very long time, Mets fans loved to hate me, and I loved to make them hate me. It’s kind of an unusual dynamic there.
“But I loved my time and the opportunities I got to play in New York. My dad always told me that if you can be successful on that stage under those lights, you can be successful anywhere. I’ll always remember that, so whenever I stepped off the plane in New York, that was a playoff game for me, a playoff series for me. It didn’t matter whether it was in May or October.”
That brings Jones to perhaps his biggest challenge this weekend, aside from the technology: the requirement as a national network broadcaster to show neutrality, even about Braves-Mets.
“I think everybody realizes when I walk in the room or when I’m on TV that I’ve got a big ol’ ‘A’ across my forehead,” Jones said. “They know that. But you have to have some neutrality, and I can’t be a homer.”
The same applies when he is asked who he thinks will win the National League pennant in this shortened season.
“I am a Braves fan, but I can’t pick the Braves,” he said. “It’s no disrespect to the Atlanta Braves, but I think most people, if they’re honest with themselves, would probably pick the Dodgers to beat the Braves in the National League this year if the Braves even make it that far.
“I certainly like the Braves’ chances in the East. I’ll be secretly pulling for them. But I have a job to do. ... I know they got (peeved) at me two years ago when I picked the Dodgers to beat the Braves (in the playoffs), but the fact of the matter is I’m going to tell you the truth if asked.”
Jones appeared on a couple of ESPN telecasts as a guest analyst last season. After David Ross, a former catcher for the Braves and six other teams, resigned as an ESPN analyst last fall to become the Chicago Cubs’ manager, the network approached Jones about the job.
Asked what prompted him to accept it, Jones answered with customary candor:
“Well, to be honest with you, a little bit of boredom, and from the standpoint of wanting to get my foot back in the door somehow, some way, and not have a giant time-consuming job.
“We had been talking with ESPN for quite some time. Heck, we were talking with Fox to do just Braves games.
The fact of the matter is, ESPN gave me more money and promised to be flexible with schedules because of the fact I already have a TV show on the Sportsman Channel, a hunting show (“Major League Bowhunter”). Starting in September, I’m going to be traveling all over the United States filming for that.
“With Rossy getting the job in Chicago ... ESPN broached the subject and made it worth my while to come out of retirement and start my broadcasting career.”
Calling games from home is in some ways “the best of both worlds,” Jones said. But he yearns for the day when broadcasters and fans alike will be able to return to stadiums.
“For the quality of the product we’re putting out on ESPN, I would rather be in the ballpark,” he said. “You feed off so much energy from fans at the ballpark. And I’m a fan – I want to be in the ballpark. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. To not be there is different and difficult.”