HE'LL BE a free agent this fall, and so, the conventional (and cynical) wisdom went, this was to be the year that Andruw Jones's statistics soared. Instead, the 30-year-old Braves centerfielder and father of two was hitting .214 through Sunday. A bust? Not exactly. Jones still covers more territory than the Pacific—he's won nine Gold Gloves—and he still makes his knocks count, on pace for 106 RBIs. Oh, he has also hit a cool .500 over his last two playoffs, where Atlanta, staying close in the NL East, just might be headed again.
On his subpar season
If I drive in more than 100 runs, even if I struggle with batting average, it would be a good season. [To get through it] I just look to myself, look at my tapes, try to stay positive. People try to help you all the time, but you're the one who has to do it.
On his impending free agency
Guys want to have a big year in a contract year, to get paid a lot. That's not the way your reputation is built; it's built on previous years. Anybody can have one great year. Hopefully when the season's over, we'll come to an agreement and I can stay with the Braves forever.
On his favorite clubhouse pastime
Connect Four. It's a kids' game, but it's great for grown-up people, too. If you don't pay attention, you can easily lose. It's the strategy. Chipper [Jones] is good at backgammon, [John] Smoltz is good at backgammon, but in Connect Four it's me.
On growing up on the island of Cura√ßao, off Venezuela
My dream was to play professional baseball. We'd practice behind the national field where they held tournaments. I had a job getting foul balls and selling them back to the teams. We'd get maybe five bucks. Now, I've got a Little League team there that I organized. I get them bats, balls, trophies.
On lessons from his father, Henry
He played baseball in the Pan Am Games and he went to the nationals in volleyball and basketball. He taught me baseball stuff: to work my ass off.
On a childhood training method
We swung sledgehammers to build up wrist strength. My dad told me to do it. Three times a week. You hold the sledgehammer and roll your wrists in a circle. Baseball's all about hand speed and strength.
On his favorite team as a kid
Oakland A's. Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, Dave Parker. The power, the Bash Brothers—it was so exciting. I used to do the Bash Brothers thing [forearm bump] with my friends, and I still do it, me and Jeff Francoeur, after we hit home runs.
On reaching the majors in 1996 at age 19
They pull stuff on you, but you need to go with the flow. If you get mad, they keep doing it. The first one, I was in Florida and they put hot towels in my pants and shoes. Then they dressed me as a clown to go all the way to Montreal. I don't do that to young guys now—it's not my style.
On the reception he gets in Cura√ßao
People know me, but it's not such a big deal. People are laid-back. If Michael Jordan went there, they'd be happy the first time they saw him, but after that everybody would see him and be like, all right.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG FOSTER
BRAD MANGIN (JONES ACTION)