Baseball way of life for Henderson's Jones

Published on Wednesday, 22 August 2012 23:11 - Written by Pat Turner

SAN ANTONIO — Gary Jones stood in the Wolff Stadium dugout keeping close watch on the infield.

Temperatures were still hovering around 100 degrees at 8 p.m. with no sign of relief. It had already been a long day for the San Diego Padres infield coordinator, who had been there since early afternoon working with the players from the San Antonio Missions (the major league club’s Double-A minor league affiliate) on fundamentals.

For the Henderson native, it was worth every minute as the Missions infielders’ errorless performance complemented a solid eight-inning effort from starter Matt Jackson in a 4-3 win over Arkansas.

The next day, Jones was on his way to Class A Fort Wayne to do more of the same. A few days later he’d head to another of the Padres’ minor league stops.

He’ll make more trips until the minor league seasons end on Labor Day. Then, he’ll spend a few weeks in Arizona working with young players in the Instructional League.

A hectic schedule perhaps, but Jones wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, professional baseball has been his life the past 30 years as a player, manager, coach and coordinator.

During that time, he admits baseball has been good to him. At the same time, Gary Jones has been good to baseball, including the past 10 years with the Padres where he has groomed young prospects for The Show.

“I knew baseball was what I always wanted to do,” Jones said. “It’s been a great career. I’ve had a chance to travel and see a lot of places. I’ve met a lot of great people.”

With the exception of serving one season as Oakland’s first base coach, the rest of the time has been in the minors, 15 of those years as a manager in the Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Padres’ organizations. During that time he compiled a 1,039-972 record, won four league titles and earned a few managerial awards.

There is a chance Jones could manage again down the road, but for the time being the former Lion baseball standout enjoys his current role.

“I like what I’m doing now,” said Jones, who was interim manager for the Padres’ Triple-A squad Portland (now Tucson) when Randy Ready became San Diego’s hitting coach the final five weeks of the 2009 season. “It gives me a chance to build a personal relationship with the guys. I can go into a city and focus on one area.”

Jones usually hits each minor league affiliate three or four times a year. In addition, he travels out of the USA to work with the Padres’ Dominican Republic squad.

The emphasis is different at every level. During his stops at San Antonio and Tucson, the focus is on fine-tuning and making sure the infielders are staying on the right track. At the Class A and rookie stops, there’s more teaching involved.

Wherever Jones goes, his approach is the same.

“I’m a teacher,” said Jones, a three-time winner of the Jack Krol Award, which acknowledges excellence in player development in the Padres’ organization. “I try to give them different ideas on what might work for them. I tell them to not worry about being flashy, just make the routine plays day in and day out. To me making the routine plays day in and day out is flashy.”

No doubt his work is appreciated.

“Jonesie is my mentor,” Missions second baseman Dean Anna said. “He’s been there for me ever since I was drafted. He always works you hard and tried to get the best out of you. He’s always making sure you’re doing the right thing. That’s what you have to do in baseball.”

Jones’ instruction is valuable, but what makes him connect with his players is relating to what they’re going through in the minors.

After all, he’s been there and done that in a unique way.

Jones played all sports at Henderson, but baseball was where he shined the most. Even though he was the complete player, college coaches snubbed him because of his size.

However, Henderson coaches Skip Tamplin and Bobby Briscoe talked to Paris Junior College coach Larry Click about Jones’ ability. He got an invitation to walk on and eventually earned a scholarship. After a solid two-year stint with the Dragons, Jones followed the same format in earning a spot with University of Arkansas.

That turned out to be a one-year deal as Jones signed with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent during the summer of 1982 while playing for Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley League.

For the next seven years while playing in the Cubs’ and Oakland’s organizations, Jones, who moved from the outfield to second base as a pro, gave his all.

“When I was playing it was always a grind for me,” Jones said. “I don’t want to say I was behind the eight ball, but I was never the No. 1 guy going into the season. I always had to work my way into the lineup. I had no problem with that, because competition is good. I just went out and played. I believed in what I could do, play good defense, hit for average, steal bases and score some runs.

“That’s helped me relate to the players and give them an understanding nothing is guaranteed in this game. You have to work. It doesn’t matter if you’re drafted number one or if you sign as a free agent. When you put that uniform on everyone is equal. The best man wins.”

The playing days for Jones, who played in 897 games, ended in 1989 at Triple-A Tacoma. However, not before a new opportunity came his way.

“The Athletics asked me if I would consider being a player-coach that year and managing after that,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to start bouncing around from organization to organization. I thought about it and thought it was probably the best thing for me. In 1990, I started managing in Arizona.”

Jones is happy he made that choice.

Seeing the players’ progress is special to Jones, especially when they make it to the majors. Through the years a number of his students have reached the top, including current third baseman Chase Headley and second baseman Logan Forsythe.

“I get to see the guys when they’re at the lowest level,” Jones said. “You see how green and raw they are at first. Then you get to watch them grow. You see how refined and mature they have gotten. Seeing them develop and then the look on their faces when they make the jump to the major leagues is the rewarding part.

No doubt baseball has been a good life for Gary Jones.