Blacks in baseball—or the lack thereof—has been a hot topic for the media machine, and preserving the historical significance of past black ballers has been an agenda of departing Commissioner Bud Selig. Often lost in the sauce are the current African-American jewels of the game. Cats that suit up each night regardless of the numbers and keep the spirit of Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays alive with every base hit, ridiculous grab, stolen base or towering shot.
The Shadow League spoke with one of MLB’s modern day black treasures, Baltimore Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones. Jones is an all-around dynamo, one of baseball’s VIP ballers, and a shining example of why the African-American presence in MLB enhances the game and effectively adds historical context.
J.R Gamble: With all of this talk about African-American numbers decreasing in MLB, I’m seeing a resurgence of black center fielders in the past half decade.
Adam Jones: “For sure. Centerfield is one of the most athletic positions on the field. You got myself and (2013 NL MVP Andrew) McCutchen, BJ Upton… there are so many. Ben Revere, Desmond Jennings, Jackie Bradley Jr., Cameron Maybin, that dude James Jones in Seattle, Coco Crisp, Michael Bourn, Austin Jackson.”
“There are a lot of brothers playing, but there are also a lot of really good African-American players down in the minors that aren’t getting the opportunities and the same looks as other players. You can’t really say too much about it or make excuses about it because as soon as you say something (as an African-American player) there’s going to be controversy and contradictory. I just tell everybody to control what you can on the field and get after it because you never know when your shot is going to be. When that next opportunity comes your way. So I tell everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to be in the major leagues. When you get called up, take every advantage! Every last one, because you never know when it’s going to be your last day in the majors.”
Gamble: Rumor has it you were a freak of nature in high school and baseball just came naturally.
Jones: “Up throughout high school it was just pure athleticism that made me good in baseball. It wasn’t coached or necessarily taught. Once I got into pro ball I began learning a lot, but before that everything else was just raw skills. I had some people around me like a guy that I don’t mention a lot but he played major league baseball – Josh Glassey. He’s from the San Diego area but he’s about seven or eight years older than me. He had an idea and knew what to expect so he gave me a little bit of a heads up a year before I experienced it. I remember when I’m starting to get into my junior and senior year; he gave me a lot of advice about the next level. Like what to expect, how to start training your body, how to be mentally prepared…just teaching me the game. Like I said, I was very raw. I wish I worked a little bit harder in high school, but I think it all worked out.”
Gamble: Having made it out of a violent, inner-city San Diego, do you see yourself as a role model or example for other kids from that area?
Jones: “I don’t look at myself as the one that “made it out” and became successful. No, I just figured out something that I wanted to do and went after it. It doesn’t matter what it is. With me, it just so happens that it was professional sports and they happen to compensate you well if you’re good. What I try to teach people is, don’t count other people’s money. Just because someone plays professional sports and you don’t, doesn’t mean he’s better than you. I’m not better than anybody. I can play a sport. I got a talent. That doesn’t give me any executive decisions or homeland security decisions. I’m not making decisions for the U.S. budget or anything like that. So I try to tell people, whatever it is you’re passionate about then that’s what it is. That’s what you should pursue. I have tons of friends who do different jobs. They all like their job and are all helping people in different ways. Every job is compensated differently so I found something that I was good at and worked my tail off to try to make myself and my life a lot better and so far so good. If you want to say, ‘I made it out’…you can say that. But I look at it as I saw something I wanted and I went after it and I didn’t let the wrong people deter me from my goals.”
Gamble: Why is MLB’s Civil Rights Game so important? Do you feel the impact of past players such as Willie Mays and Frank Robinson even resonates with African-Americans anymore?
Jones: “It’s important... but we're in the era nowadays and we’re steadily moving towards a time where it’s a social media, opinionated, non-factual, non-truthful exchange of information, where everybody wants to have their voice heard over everybody else just because they can. You’re able to reach out to your favorite people and express yourself directly to them. Times have changed.”
“These guys before us were kings. The guys you named – Hank, Frank, Rickey, countless others that have played in the 60s, 70s and 80s…it obviously starts with Jackie, but just imagine. Imagine what you would have done if you’re getting sprayed with a hose. That hurts I’m sure. But these guys, so many of them sacrificed and forfeited their civil liberties and civil rights, knowing that because of their actions the future will be better for people. Its humbling that we’re able to play in this game. It’s also humbling that my people who were here before me…I’m not just going out and totally disrespecting everything they worked hard for. By participating in this game I’m showing that as a modern day African-American player, I’m not taking anything for granted. I understand that we’re in a position right now because of what those players before me have done, and I’m indebted to countless numbers of people who fought for a future that they had no idea about and couldn’t personally benefit from. “
Gamble: Who does an African-American baseball player hang out with? You see so many NFL and NBA players hanging with reality celebrities and entertainers.
Jones: “I’m not in that circle. I have some friends who are in different sports, but it’s a ploy to me nowadays. They give us all of this money then they want us to spend all of it and be back broke. That’s how I look at it. There’s better ways to spend money...I mean obviously I enjoy having fun, I’m human. I’m only 28 years old. I’m definitely still going to have fun and enjoy myself, but there are limitations nowadays. I’m getting older. There are certain things I don’t want to do. Certain things I’m not going to go out of my way to do. I think I’m just becoming more of a homebody. I stand out in the sun all day on the ball field and run. That’s my job description, so after I’m done playing I don’t want to do much. I don’t feel like lifting my legs up. I try to relax and watch TV and hang out with my family and friends. Over the last couple of years that’s how I’ve molded myself. “
Jones’ all-around baseball game has also blossomed during the last three years of his social transformation. He’s gone from promising young prospect to a Top 3 player in the game at his position, averaging about 27 homers and a 90 RBI’s. Jones was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the 37th pick in the first round of the 2003 MLB Draft as a shortstop/right-handed hurler before being traded to the Orioles prior to the 2008 season. He started asserting his baseball gangster in 2009 and when he takes the field on Tuesday night against the Texas Rangers, he does so as an accomplished Silver Slugger and three-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner (’09, ’12, ’13), leading a team whose resilience and fighting spirit reflects Jones’ baseball principles.
Gamble: What does B-More have to do to come out on top in this AL East dogfight?
Jones: “ It’s a long season; it’s about whose going to hold up.Toronto is real hot right now but we are going to get our fair chance to face everybody in our division especially in the second half when the schedules are big time and you face your division, which is amazing. We have to keep ourselves in striking distance and right now, the second half of the season, all of this stuff is very, very important. So we’ll see how it turns out. I’m not Nostradamus I just know that we come to play.”
Gamble: What’s it like playing for Buck Showalter? He’s a different type of manager.
Jones: (chips his teeth) “He’s not no different man. He obviously has a reputation but the man wants to win. However you analyze that or see that or think about that…he wants to win. How many people want to win? And how badly do people want to win? Who wouldn’t want to play for a guy like that? He brings it every day and comes to play, so it’s easy for us as younger players to bring it every day. Our coaching staff is uplifting and comes to win every day. To me, that sounds like fun. Sounds like something I want to be a part of.”
Gamble: What are your goals moving forward?
Jones: “ My personal goals are based on the team. If we win, then I did my job and I’m pretty sure I’ll be in the thick of things. I don’t care how it happens or who we gotta’ go through. I just want to win. The last couple of years we’ve been playing some very good baseball and it’s just cool not to be a pushover in the division or throughout baseball. We play the game good and people know. Now I just try to bring it every day.”
Gamble: What’s your greatest weapon as a five-tool player?
Jones: “ It’s my passion and my respect. I respect the hell out of this game. I respect the history. I respect the veterans. I respect the chain of command. (For instance), someone who has 10-year service time, I recognize that he’s earned every day of those 10 years. They just don’t hand out service time in the big leagues. I’ve been big into respecting those aspects of the game and knowing that I will exhaust whatever I have in my tank for my teammates and the game. That’s my greatest weapon. “
Jones also gives back to the Baltimore community with the same passion with which he executes his prolific diamond-mining. He’s known as a class act and a respected ambassador of baseball. He'll also go down as the best player to rock No.10 in franchise history.
Jones: “I work closely with The Boys and Girls Club down in Baltimore. I have a couple of education centers and one media center that we just changed over. What we’re trying to do is go into the Boys and Girls Club and provide kids with access to basic things they may not have. Most of the kids in that area don’t even have internet access in their houses so if you go to the Boys and Girls Club you’ll see I created a learning center consisting of like 25 to 30 computers and we’re working on another center right now that I’m going to go see when I get back home. We want to continuously give kids, parents, families and communities opportunity. Access is for everybody not just one specific group of people. If someone wants to go there and use the internet to fill out job applications or do research for school or anything. That’s what I’m about; creating opportunities.”
Gamble: Do you expect people to embrace the sport of baseball more as you provide them with opportunities in life?
Jones: “ It couldn’t hurt but that’s not my main objection. My main objection is the education factor. You can’t do anything these days without an education. I don’t care what you say or think. Unless you’re a hell of an athlete—and even then—you need an education. You can’t do anything without an education. Baseball and hockey are the only (team) sports where you can go straight into the league out of high school. To play pro football or basketball you have to go to college. You have to have some brain on your shoulders to play sports period. You can’t just be talented or street smart and try to figure things out.”
Gamble: Isn’t street smarts the foundation and a weapon in the arsenal of most successful black Americans these days?
Jones: “The real world doesn’t care about street smarts. There’s no money in street smarts. Your nickel and diming it. These kids need an education. To me that’s where it all starts. If you hand in a resume and they see you went to a prestigious school, then that right there is going to get you some cool points in the job market. Saying someone is street savvy means nothing. No one cares about that stuff no more. It’s good to have street smarts once you understand how to gain success in the real world. I’m not naïve to the fact of what’s going on in the streets.”
Gamble: Toughest pitcher that you’ve faced?
Jones: “Pitchers are doing real good right now. There are some guys that are so talented. Justin Masterson is still one of my least favorite to face. Then you have some young guys with some arms on them like Trevor Bowers. He’s got impressive stuff. Alex Cobb is still dirty. Chris Archer’s got filthy stuff. There’s the young kid he just came up and he’s had some elbow problems Yordano Ventura, he’s got electric stuff. You’ve got Scott Shields who is outing himself in line to get a monster contract. You can’t just say any one person anymore. Max Scherzer is legit and he’s getting better and better. Verlander is Verlander. Every day you got to the park and have to bring it. There aren’t any 88 to 90 mile-per-hour guys anymore. Everyone’s throwing 92 to 96 up to 100 miles an hour. You just have to get in there and go to battle with them. That’s just how the game is.”