KISSIMMEE, Fla. — While looking forward to his second World Baseball Classic, Chipper Jones would be even more fired up about playing in another international competition.
Jones, who won his first NL batting title last season with the Atlanta Braves, is pulling for his favorite sport to get back on the Olympic program in 2016. In the meantime, he’ll settle for the WBC, which will be held next month.
"This is an international sport being played all over the world," Jones said. "More and more countries are playing it, and playing it at a high level. Why not the Olympics?"
Baseball was dropped from the Olympics after the Beijing Games and won’t be played at the 2012 Olympics in London.
But it’s among seven sports vying for two open spots on the 2016 program, with a decision expected this fall at the same meeting where the International Olympic Committee picks its next host city.
Chicago is among the finalists, and the idea of playing the Olympics at Wrigley Field sure has a lot of appeal. Tokyo, in baseball-mad Japan, is also in the running, along with two cities (Madrid and Rio de Janeiro) where the sport doesn’t have much fan appeal.
No matter which city gets the 2016 Games, Jones believes baseball should be on the program. And he said the major leagues should do their part to make sure the best players can take part in the Olympics, even if it requires halting play for several weeks in the middle of the season.
Those passed over for the Olympics would get a much-need break — "a built in 15-day stint on the DL," Jones said.
Those who did get picked would have a career highlight, he added.
"It’s a unique experience and I think it would probably be one of the better experiences of anybody’s career," he said. "I think they should be afforded that opportunity."
If baseball does get back in the Olympics, it would come too late for Jones. He’ll be 44 in 2016.
"I would have loved it," he said.
While Ken Griffey Jr. was a no-show at the Braves camp, one of the few people ahead of him on the career home run list did stop by.
Hank Aaron, a senior vice president with the team, watched part of batting practice at the first full-squad workout of the spring. The former home run king sat on an elevated bench behind the cage, chatting with Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton and pausing occasionally to shake hands with star-struck players who came by to pay homage to the Hall of Famer.
Chipper Jones even brought over one of his bats to the Hammer, who wanted to compare it to the one he used while hitting 755 homers.
The 75-year-old Aaron grabbed it and took a few half-swings, saying it was a different model than his but weighed the same — 33 ounces.
"He looks like he could still play," Jones marveled.
Less than seven months removed from major surgery, Tim Hudson did some long tossing in the outfield and threw about 20 pitches off the mound.
But he’s still a long way from pitching in a game.
While encouraged by the pace of his recovery, the Braves know it will take a full year for their former ace to get over Tommy John surgery. They’re pointing to August for his earliest possible return.
Manager Bobby Cox will take whatever he gets from Hudson this season.
"It would be great if we could get ourselves in a pennant race and then he’s ready to go," Cox said.
"He might make only five starts, but that could be the difference."
Everyone reported to camp on time, including the sizable Latin contingent that is often held up by visa issues back home. "We had no problems with visas," Cox said. "That’s always good." ... RHP Rafael Soriano, expected to be a key member of the bullpen, threw off the mound for the first time, even though he’s still slowed by a lingering illness.