Kickin' it with JACQUE JONES
|- photo by S.
In 1999, after years of floundering in mediocrity with a team built around
veteran castoffs, the Minnesota Twins finally decided to go with an all out youth movement. Many of those players are the
core of what is now is a contending team. Jacque Jones has been an intergral part of that. The outfielder adjusted to the
big league life quickly, hitting .289 and making an array of highlight reel catches. Jones provided a spark that gave new
life to the stagnant atmosphere surrounding Twins baseball. I caught up with Jacque Jones after an autograph signing for the
Twin Cities Sports Card Collectors Club.
Jones, who was rumored to clash with former manager Tom Kelly, is clearly
more comfortable playing under rookie skipper Ron Gardenhire, "The team is a reflection of it's manager," he explained. "If
you see your manager having a good time and being loose and wanting you to be loose, then the team is going to be loose. If
the manager is not that way, not outgoing like Gardy (Gardenhire) is, then you are going to play like that."
one of Gardenhire's first orders of business after taking over the helm, was to name Jones his everyday left fielder. "We
had been talking prior to him being named manager; he said I was going to play every day and get 600 at bats and I told him
I appreciated it," Jones commented. "When he came out and said that (publicly at his first press conference), it was a good
feeling that I finally had somebody confident enough in me to let me play everyday."
Jones, the Twins' leadoff hitter,
immediately rewarded Gardenhire's confidence in him by leading off the season with a home run off Kansas City's Jeff Suppan.
"I was thinking about getting on base - just like always," he said.
One of Jones' best assets as a player is his defense.
A great athlete, with outstanding range, Jones has quickly established himself as one of the American League's best left fielders.
But he gives little thought about winning a Gold Glove, "I don't think about it, I just go out and play," he explained. "Whether
it's recognized or not, I am just going to play good defense."
When he first broke into the big leagues, Jones manned
center field for the Twins. Torii Hunter, now developing into a superstar, was struggling with the bat and sent to the minors.
Jones showed he was more than capable of filling the position, making several spectacular catches.
In fact, he would
probably be a center fielder on a lot of teams, "I probably could (play CF on several teams), but I'm here until they don't
want me anymore, then I'm sure I'll be able to find a job somewhere else," he said confidently. "I don't think I'll have any
problem doing that."
Jones chooses not to dwell on his spectacular plays, but instead takes the low key approach,
"Once they are done, they're over with - I go out and try to make more plays," he said.
Life in the big leagues hasn't
been all easy, however. The left handed batting Jones has struggled mightily against southpaws. He explained the biggest differences
between right and left handed pitchers:
"I think you just have to keep your shoulder in more (against lefties) because
the ball is going away from you. You have to try to hit them more to left field," he explained. "Getting comfortable is the
Life in major league baseball is full of ups and downs. The successful players are the ones that learn
to deal with setbacks the best. "You've got to love the game of baseball - Mike Cameron hit four home runs (on May 2nd at
Chicago) and the day before he went 0-4," Jones noted. "You are gonna have good days and bad days. The key to being a consistent
major league baseball player is keeping the bad days to a minimum."
One of Jones' unique qualities is his ability
to improvise on the base path. He leaped over the Red Sox' catcher in Boston during the 1999 season to avoid a tag, and has
had several other memorable jumps and jukes since then, "I'm just playing the game, man - it's kind of like a running back
- it's a designed play, but if you see something you change direction," Jones said of his philosophy on the base path. "I
try not to make outs, and in order not to make outs, I've got to improvise sometimes."
These days much of the discussion
about baseball in Minnesota has, unfortunately, been centered around off-the-field matters - like the stadium push. Jones
claims the players stay out of that mess. "We don't have any control over it - either they are going to build one - or they're
not," he explained. "They are not going to build one because we say we want one because we've been saying that the last ten
Jones grew up in San Diego following the Padres and idolizing Tony Gwynn. He first met Gwynn while in the
minor leagues and had the good fortune of working with him in the off season. He simply said Gwynn was "awesome" and epitomized
what it means to be a "professional hitter."
Jones enjoys hanging out with teammates Torii Hunter (his best friend
on the team) and reliever Latroy Hawkins during his free time. He says they are mostly low key, playing video games at each
other's houses and going out for dinner together. Jacque Jones is an intergral part of a tight knit group of young players,
a few veterans, and a rookie manager who hope to shock the world and take the Twins deep into the post season. The future
of baseball in Minnesota is riding on it.
Jones' page @ Baseball-Almanac.com
Simply Baseball Notebook