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Cos delivers final spring pep talk
Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox watches his team during spring training baseball practice Saturdayin Kissimmee, Fla. - photo by Rob Carr

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Chipper Jones has heard Bobby Cox's spring training speech so often, Jones thinks he could fill in for the Atlanta Braves manager.

"I could probably recite it verbatim without him even coming out here," said Jones, starting his 17th big league camp.

Jones and his teammates had to pay attention on Tuesday.

Cox changed the script for his final spring training speech. He is retiring after the season, and this year he wanted to talk about more than rules. He wanted to say more than, "Go get 'em, boys!"

Players, clubhouse attendance and front office personnel all listened as Cox battled nerves and emotions while saying thanks.

"This one was different," said bullpen coach Eddie Perez, a former Braves catcher. "It was tough, a different feeling. ... I was sitting right next to him. I was looking at him and looking at everybody, and everybody was paying attention."

Were there tears?

"It was close," Perez said. "He said he was very nervous about the meeting for the first time."

The 68-year-old Cox is entering his 21st consecutive season at the Braves' helm — the longest tenure among active managers — and 25th overall. He also was Toronto's manager for four years and was Atlanta's general manager before returning to the dugout in 1990.

"I told the players this is it for me and it's the last time I'll be talking to them here in spring training, but I'll still be the same old grumpy guy that gets mad once in a while," Cox said. "My goals haven't changed simply because we've got a good team every year, and the goal should be to get to the World Series and win one. We're up for that."

Cox quickly shifted the discussion to his excitement about the team, including rookie right fielder Jason Heyward's attention-grabbing batting practice.

"Every ball was just scalded," Cox said of Heyward.

That's a typical Cox maneuver, Jones said.

"You know Bobby. He's going to deflect all the attention away from him and onto us players," Jones said. "It's up to us as players. This being his last year, it adds a little motivation to get your work done and start a championship season."

Cox ranks fourth among managers with 2,413 wins. His teams have won 15 division titles — including 14 straight with Atlanta — five pennants and the 1995 World Series.

Jones said he could tell Cox was nervous.

"That's not like Bobby, but you only have one last year, one last speech," Jones said. "There are going to be a lot of other lasts along the way. If it comes down to September and God forbid we're out of the race or something, you'll see it really hit him. Obviously if we're in the playoffs, the focus is going to be on going to the playoffs."

Either way, at some point Cox will face his finale.

"It's going to be tough, the last day," Perez said.

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