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Disappointing year has Jones pondering retirement

ATLANTA (AP) — One mighty swing brought it all back for Chipper Jones. The feeling of connecting with a pitch on the sweet spot of his bat. The sight of the ball soaring into the seats 400 feet away.

Those sort of moments have become far too rare for a player who once dominated the Atlanta Braves' lineup.

He believes it might be time to walk away.

Struggling through another disappointing season, the third baseman met with team officials Tuesday to discuss his future and told The Associated Press he's considering retirement.

"It's obvious that it's something I've been thinking about," Jones said after arriving at Turner Field in his blue pickup truck for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. "I need to go through the proper channels. Once those have all been taken care of, everybody's questions will be answered."

Jones declined to comment directly on whether he'll retire at the end of the season, but he sure sounded as though he's made up his mind and merely needs to work out a settlement with the team over the $28 million in guaranteed money he's owed for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Then again, his performance against the Rays — even for only one night — surely made him wonder if he can hang around a little longer.

Batting in his usual third spot in the order, Jones led off the third inning with a double to the gap in right-center and came around to score. Then in the eighth, with the Rays comfortably ahead, he sent a 3-2 pitch from Lance Cormier into the center-field seats for just his fourth homer of the season.

Jones dodged reporters at his locker after the 10-4 loss, but spoke briefly with the AP outside the clubhouse, accompanied by his parents.

"Home runs always make you feel better," he said.

Larry Jones is not convinced that his 38-year-old son, who won the NL MVP award in 1999 and led the league in hitting just two years ago, has definitely decided to retire.

"I think a lot of it has to do with how things go the next three months," the elder Jones said. "If he gets hot and he's hitting the ball well, it's going to be hard to walk away."

But Jones' parents said they'll support whatever decision he makes.

"He's pretty down in the dumps about things right now," Larry Jones said. "He talked to me about it three or four months ago, and I told, 'Don't make a decision based on how you feel right now. Give it a chance.' But I'm running out of times I can say, 'Give it a chance.'"

Added Lynne Jones, "He's earned the right to do what he wants to do."

Before the game, the third baseman met with team president John Schuerholz, general manager Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox. Jones told the AP he planned to discuss some "red tape issues" that need to be addressed before he can make anything official. Asked if those involved a resolution of his contract, he replied, "That would be fair to say."

Jones struggled last season and indicated that another difficult year would likely lead him to consider retirement, even if it meant walking away from a huge amount of money.

This season has been even tougher for Jones, though the Braves are leading the NL East. He's battled injuries and is hitting just .233 with four homers and 23 RBIs.

The Braves have gotten more production at third base out of utility infielders Omar Infante (.314, one homer, 16 RBIs) and Brooks Conrad (.275, three homers, 12 RBIs), which has made Jones' troubles stand out even more.

"Well, anytime you've struggled at the plate and you're having trouble producing, it's frustrating," Jones told the AP. "I'm used to being in the middle of everything, but it hasn't been happening. Hopefully I'll have a better second half and really help contribute to this team staying in first place."

The Braves returned home from an 11-game road trip still in first, even though Jones played just four of those games because of an ailing finger.

"He's been bothered by that finger, but he's fine right now," Cox said. "We've got him back in there. Hopefully he can lead us to a championship."

Baseball already lost one of the generation's biggest stars when Ken Griffey Jr. abruptly retired this month in the middle of his 22nd season. Jones has put together a career that could get him in the mix for Cooperstown — he had 430 career homers and trails only Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504) among switch-hitters.

Jones has long been the face of the Braves' offense, helping Atlanta wins its lone World Series title as a rookie in 1995 and significantly contributing to an unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles. His best year was 1999, when the Braves won the NL championship and he was named MVP after hitting .319 with 45 homers and 110 RBIs.

Then came the injuries, which started in 2004 and led to a stretch of five straight seasons in which he missed at least 25 games. He continued to produce when healthy, putting up 29 homers and 102 RBIs in 2007, followed by a .364 average the next season that gave him his first NL batting championship.

Jones' numbers dipped dramatically in 2009. He batted only .264 — the second-lowest average of his 16-year career — with 18 homers and 71 RBIs.

This season, Jones has willingly ceded the spotlight to rookie sensation Jason Heyward, leadoff man Martin Prado and new first baseman Troy Glaus.

Still, Jones remains a prominent figure in the clubhouse.

"He's a guy I watched when I was coming up," Conrad said. "We're better when we have him out there. It would be a sad day if he's leaving."

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Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.