When baseball officials were looking for someone to take part in this year’s Home Run Derby portion of the All-Star Game celebration, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones wasted no time volunteering.
Keep in mind that Jones is not really a home run hitter. In the seven years that he has been a regular, Jones’ season’s high is the 33 he hit last year. That’s a respectable total, but nowhere near the 52 Chris Davis hit last year and a few ahead of what Nelson Cruz has produced so far this year.
But in a sport that can be overly ponderous and full of pomposity, Jones is about fun. He’s the one Oriole likely to hit a teammate with a shaving cream pie during the teammate’s post-game interview. And he said he’ll bring his professional wrestling title belt to the Derby, probably to lighten the mood.
For Birds fans with long memories, it’s not hard to look at Adam Jones now and see echoes of a great former Oriole, Frank Robinson. Like Robinson, Jones has become a Baltimore mainstay after a trade from his original organization. Both grew up playing basketball in California, Robinson in San Francisco and Jones in San Diego. And while Jones has not displayed Robinson’s Hall of Fame talent, he has taken on the mantle of clubhouse leadership, just as Robinson did.
For instance, Jones told an ESPN reporter recently that he would kick Manny Machado’s butt to ensure the young third baseman would develop. No doubt, Jones was one of the first players to counsel Machado after his recent bat swinging incident that drew a five-game suspension.
Jones would likely see parallels between himself and the late Tony Gwynn, an eight-time National League batting champion and Hall of Famer with the San Diego Padres. He was also the coach at San Diego State University. Gwynn died last month at 54 from complications of salivary gland cancer.
He and Jones shared a hometown and a passion for baseball. Jones said he spent a lot of his offseasons talking with Gwynn and working out with his players. Jones spoke fondly to MASN’s Roch Kubatko about Gwynn’s work with Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities, Major League Baseball’s initiative to increase minority participation in the game.
To that point, Jones is a rarity in baseball culture: namely, an African-American star. In his day, Frank Robinson was surrounded by a galaxy of black baseball stars, including Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey. By Gwynn’s day, that number had pretty much dwindled down to himself, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey.
Perhaps Jones and Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen can help bring young African-Americans back to the game that helped their ancestors assimilate into the broader culture.
Jones told ESPN that he liked the swag the Orioles carry and that there’s more to come. Spoken by nearly anyone else, those words would come across as bragging.
But from Adam Jones, it all sounds like fun.
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