Jones, now 45 years old, was born in Gadsden and played at the college level for Auburn University.
“I loved the game, loved traveling, loved the clubhouse,” Jones said.
In his years with the Tigers, he played with the likes of Bo Jackson, Gregg Olson and Frank Thomas. In 1988, the Baltimore Orioles drafted him in the third round of the amateur draft.
Jones played in the league for nine years including stints with the Baltimore Orioles, the San Francisco Giants, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox.
He said leaving the league was a difficult time for him, because so much of an athlete’s identity is wrapped up in what he does. He said soul-searching and figuring out who he was and what he wanted to do was a struggle at 30 years old.
“A lot of people go through depression and, of course, I did,” Jones said. “I wished I had that opportunity to go back and do some things differently as far as my playing days. But I don’t regret anything that I’ve done.”
Eventually, Jones found his niche directing the parks and recreation department in Talladega.
In his spare time, he has taken to helping aspiring baseball players with their skills. What started as a few kids meeting after the season to work on fundamentals has blossomed into a senior Babe Ruth team for the city.
“We’re a little bit behind on athletic ability, but the heart’s there and the desire’s there,” Jones said. “These kids are learning and we’re having a good time.”
The Attalla resident said he hopes to extend the summer ball into a fall baseball season for the kids. He said even though baseball takes a lot out of athletes physically, kids aren’t playing enough ball anymore to condition themselves and strengthen their muscles.
“Down in South America, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, they’re playing year round, whereas our kids play for two months and then they shut it down and they’re indoors playing with their Wii or their Playstation,” Jones said. “All I’m doing is providing an outlet for these kids to learn. Those kids that are out there now will eventually be fathers and take their kids out to the ballpark and say ‘this is how we need to develop.’”
Jones said he has been thankful for the time to spend passing his passion for the game on to others. He was hesitant to put time into anything but his children when he got out of the major leagues.
With oldest daughter Sheridan playing volleyball at Faulkner and youngest Emma playing varsity softball and volleyball, his parental duties get less and less with each passing day.
“God put some influential people in my life and for a long time when I got out of baseball I didn’t have the time to do it,” Jones said. “When I got out of professional ball, I had an opportunity to coach professionally, but I went through that divorce. I call it an ugly thing, but it was a blessing because I stayed at home for my children rather than leave. I got here in Talladega and became the director of parks and recreation and it opened those doors to love the game again.”
Coming off a professional baseball career, Jones said coming home was a culture shock of sorts for him. Long lost friends and members of his family would ask him when they would see him on television again, a constant reminder of the life he left behind. Alabama born and bred, he never boasted and he never looked back.
“The first thing people think of a professional athlete is you make millions,” Jones said. “I never made very much money, never claimed to have very much money. I come from a working class family and I’ll pretty much stay that way. I’ll live and die pretty close to where I was born.”
Jones said another misconception about the majors is the one players have themselves. He says every player wants a Cinderella story, but few ever have the opportunity to play at that level.
“A lot of people don’t understand at that level, it’s not a game,” Jones said. “I wished I’d learned that a long time ago. You’re in the entertainment business; you’re in the media business. You’re trying to get some kind of exposure. Media matters.”
While media may matter in the league, the father of two keeps hush about his pro career at home. He said his girls have grown up knowing his history, but only in a nutshell.
“They’ve grown up with it and with people asking all kinds of questions about where I’ve played and such,” Jones said. “They really have no idea because I don’t make it a big deal in the house. I do have a jersey on the wall and some pictures, but I don’t talk about it that much.”
Family has always been on the front of the former Auburn star’s mind. One of his fondest memories of his time in the majors involved an emotional call home.
“When I made it to the big leagues in ’91, I remember being under the bleachers of the Seattle Kingdome and making a phone call back home,” Jones said. “And they all watched. My uncle called, which he passed away not too long ago, and wanted to know if I signed my contract. I said ‘yeah, I signed my contract.’”
Not long after making his major-league debut, events were set into motion that would permanently shift Jones’ career.
A double header with Baltimore against the Texas Rangers took a lot out of the Orioles’ pitching staff. With both games going into extra innings, no pitchers were left for the following day.
Jones was sent back down to the minors to give room for Jose Mason to come up with the promise he would be called back up in two weeks.
But he never got the chance.
“I went down and I was in uniform the next day,” Jones said. “You’ve got 72 hours to report, but I just went down the next day. About five days after I went down, I started against Syracuse. I threw seven innings, I gave up two hits and I lost 2-1. I woke up the next day and I couldn’t scratch my head, I couldn’t lift my arm.”
Jones had torn his labrum and only surgery would help him recover. So, off he went to renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
“He looked at me and said you’re never going to be the same and I can’t guarantee you’ll ever pitch again in the big leagues, but I proved him wrong and I made it back,” Jones said. “It took me six years to make it back and I finished out the ‘96 season. In the spring of ‘97, in the last week of spring training, my elbow just left. I had to have Tommy John surgery and I never recovered.”
While his elbow may have cut his career short, Jones carries many memories from that chapter of his life with him today.
“I remember playing with Cal Ripken and being in the locker room next to him,” Jones said. “He puts his pants on just like you and I. I was at the ballpark when Paul Moliter got his 3,000 hit. I got a homerun ball from the catcher, Carlton Fisk. I got that ball at home and I got him to sign the ball. He does not know to this day that was one of the balls he had hit. Those little small memories seem like they were yesterday, but they’re twenty-something years ago and they’re etched like a tattoo.”
Jones also cultivated life-long friendships with his teammates over the years in the league, a nostalgia he says bonds like brotherhood.
“You know, I may not know what’s going on in his life all the time, but it’s nice to hear his voice,” Jones said. “We’re invested in each other’s lives because we rode the bus together, we fished together, we competed together.”
His professional days behind him, Jones is content now to help young talent evolve and stay invested in his community.
The end of his baseball career also opened the door for another job he enjoys better, fatherhood.
“My dad told me when my oldest daughter was born, ‘you don’t know what love is yet, but you’re fixing to find out,’” Jones said. “And he was absolutely right. All the career in sports and the people I’ve ever met is nothing. I couldn’t be any prouder of being a parent and a father to them than being a major league player.”