In 2012, Adam Jones walked into Camden Yards to make an announcement.
The news conference was a little fuller than usual. Certainly, there were the reporters and team staffers one would expect for a contract extension. There were teammates and family, too. At the age of 26, Jones was already a fixture in the Orioles organization.
There were also 15 players from the Gardenville Grays, a Baltimore Little League team in which Jones had invested time and money. He was around so often that they didn’t view Jones, now a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner, as one of those standoffish celebrities you have to tiptoe around. He was simply Adam. And while they didn’t know right away why they were in that room, they’d soon learn that their friend Adam was staying for six more years.
“I fit here in this city. I fit here on this team. I fit in Camden Yards,” he said in the conference. “I really don’t see myself wearing another white uniform that doesn’t have ‘Orioles’ across the chest.”
On Monday, the Orioles will arrive at Chase Field. Down below, clubhouse attendants will roll out white uniforms, carefully stitched. They’ll put each uniform on a hanger, each hanger in a locker. And then Jones will put a white uniform on, this time with “D-Backs” across the chest.
Adam Jones was once the face of Baltimore. Now, he will face his old team. Maybe it would be bigger if it was back in Baltimore or if this was certainly his last season. It’s not the former, and he hopes it’s not the latter.
“I would like to play a few more years, maybe five,” he said. “Hopefully be around when the 20,000th player comes around.” (As of Saturday, 19,269 players have played in the MLB, per Baseball Reference.)
Fans and sportswriters will make more of the matchup against his previous team than Jones will. He says it’s just another series, another chance for the Diamondbacks to improve on their .500 record and extend their season.
Arizona is still getting to know Jones, here on a one-year contract, and he’s trying to continue his MLB story, too. But no matter what he does here or elsewhere, a large part of that will always revolve around what he did in Baltimore, and to Orioles fans, what he accomplished in Baltimore wasn’t just his.
“It’s like his career is all of ours,” said Chad Gauss, a chef at The Food Market, where Jones frequently went after games. “We all get to enjoy what he’s done through baseball on and off the field.”
While he was born in San Diego, Jones became intrinsically woven into Baltimore. He spent 11 years in one city, and a smaller one at that. He was a bright spot on an Orioles team that struggled for most of that time. He was known for his community engagement nearly as much as his baseball. So it wasn’t just fans who missed him after the Orioles chose not re-sign him, even in a year when Jones vetoed a trade to stay.
“I feel like there is a hole in our city,” said Y’landa Burch, chief operating officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore.
On a Sunday in Phoenix earlier this month, Jones is wearing a USA soccer jersey. It’s a departure from his usual camo, but fitting for the morning of the World Cup final, won by the U.S. Women’s National Team. He’s watching a baseball game on his laptop and occasionally bites into a glazed donut. His “Extreme Rules” WWE chair is next to him. He’s talking about everything from his breakfast taco of choice to racism in Europe to real estate. Every now and then, he’ll chirp at teammates, such as David Peralta or Ketel Marte, in Spanish. For a man whose social-media handles are @SimplyAJ10, his interests are anything but simple.
So his annual “#StayHungry” tailgate fundraiser was a perfect marriage of interests. There was lots of food, and with BMORE Around Town, he raised lots of money. The first year Jones raised about $10,000 and was thrilled. Six years in, it had ballooned to more than $100,000.
When it came to funneling that money back into the community, his wife, Audie Jones, was also heavily involved. The two care deeply about being hands-on when they give back. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore were frequent recipients, as was the Living Classrooms Foundation. Social mobility is important to them. That’s why they lean toward programs like financial-literacy classes in Baltimore public schools and college-readiness programs. Sustainability is also important. “Once we get involved, we like to stay involved,” Audie said.
With that in mind, it’s understandable that Jones hasn’t been able to pour himself into Phoenix in the same way; Realistically, he can’t. Baseball’s schedule is grueling, and the offseason is when he takes time to get to know new organizations and understand the missions. He arrived in Arizona once spring training had already started, after a drawn-out process to find a new team.
That’s certainly not to say he’s not involved. A number of his initiatives in Baltimore are still being funded. Scholarship winners are going to college, hoping to cause a ripple effect. But Jones also knows his platform is bigger when he’s playing, biggest when he’s playing well, and that next season is still uncertain. He wants to keep doing more. So he will need another job.
Plus, there are plenty who want to keep watching him play. On a Thursday night at Radecke Playfield in Northeast Baltimore, more than 2,000 miles away, the Gardenville Grays are taking the field. Some cried at Jones’ last game in Camden Yards. Months later, they still argued over who gets to wear No. 10. Parents would have to urge kids to wash their uniforms even though Jones had signed them.
Will Brown, league president, can’t overstate what it meant to have Jones out at the field so often. To have donations, but to also have the outfielder go over how to catch a pop fly. He’s never met anyone like Jones. He’s not sure that Baltimore will ever get another, though he certainly sees the need.
“This city is in some trouble. It’s been in some trouble for awhile,” Brown said. “But at the very least, sports is an escape, especially for kids.”
If anyone gets that, it’s Jones. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in San Diego, and never considered any option besides giving back once he made it to the big leagues. Seeing other professional athletes at his local Boys and Girls Club was a blueprint. But then, he built upon that.
Sometimes, he would literally build. Jones would grab a sledgehammer to knock down drywall himself when opening new classrooms or after-school programs. There was only one thing that could stop him.
“Part of my job at the time was to tell Adam he was not allowed to play basketball with the kids: ‘You can shoot around, but no dunking,’ ” said Matt Death with a laugh. Death worked first with the Orioles then with the Boys and Girls Club. “Because I’m not going to (Orioles manager) Buck Showalter to tell him that you’re hurt by playing with kids.”
Asked if he thinks the younger players have realized just how deep Jones’ impact was, Brown starts to say “no,” but he trails off, as someone calls to him. There’s been a mistake, and there’s no umpire that night for one of the games. He’s got gear in his car just in case, so he suits up. The kids need someone, and it’s time to play ball.
Jones already knew Arizona before joining the Diamondbacks. The former first-round draft pick had been here for spring training his first two years in the majors with the Mariners. He and Audie got married in Arizona in 2014. Even then, there were still adjustments. A new team, more time in right field, new schools for his two sons, and a different vibe.
“The cities are not very similar, if we’re being honest,” said Mark Trumbo, now with the Orioles after playing for the Diamondbacks in 2014 and 2015.
Baltimore has a population of around 619,000. Phoenix has one million more than that. While Phoenix is known for its sprawl, Baltimore is known for tight-knit neighborhoods. There’s East Coast and West Coast. Port city and desert. To those outside the states, Baltimore is often boiled down to “The Wire,” while Phoenix is simply “a dry heat.”
There’s also the demographics. In the 2010 census, Baltimore’s population was 62.8% black, while Phoenix’s was just 6.9%. Athletes are often role models, and for Jones, there was an extra layer.
“Well,” Jones said, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m black.”
It is noticeable in a sport where the percentage of African-American players is a constant topic of conversation. On Opening Day in 2018, only 8.4% of players on rosters were black, according to the league. Jones has spoken time and again about the lack of representation in the sport, and that message especially reverberated in Baltimore.
Those who know Jones feel he would have had a similar impact in any city. He was always going to get involved. It’s just who he is. And it has come up this season, with Jones sharing direct messages of people who send him the N-word or speaking up when fans are vulgar. He hasn’t shied away from calling out racism when he sees it.
“There are things that need to be brought to attention,” he said. “And when you have a platform – I’m not a civil rights activist, I don’t understand all the things that are going on with everything. But I understand things on the surface, I understand things that personally happened to myself.”
But in 2015, it went deeper. In April, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man, suffered injuries to his neck and spine while in transport in a police vehicle after he was arrested by Baltimore police. Gray died, protests began and escalated, and a state of emergency was declared.
The Orioles postponed two games, and on April 29, they faced the White Sox in the only crowdless game in MLB history, in front of a closed stadium. Only players, team personnel, stadium personnel and media were allowed in due to unrest. The story of the day wasn’t particularly about baseball. Wayne Kirby, the first base and outfield coach for the Orioles at the time, knew what would come next.
“As soon as they walked in the ballpark, who do you think they came up to? They ain’t come up to Chris Davis,” Kirby said. “They ain’t come up to Chris Davis.
“They come up to one guy: Adam Jones. They knew it, we knew, everyone knew it. Who do you go up to talk to? Adam.”
And Jones was ready. His mom and his grandmother taught him to speak up for what’s right and speak up about what he saw. He saw that the city that adopted him and that he adopted back was hurting. “He felt their pain for sure,” Audie said.
Jones wants to be informed on bigger topics before he weighs in on them, but when it comes to topics like race, he realizes if he doesn’t say something, perhaps no one else will. He looks at that not as a burden, but a responsibility.
“He’s got incredible perspective,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s engaged on an unbelievable level on those things outside the game.”
Jones will keep speaking out when he feels, but where that may be is yet to be determined. So for now, he just takes his at-bats, and he has some fun with them. Every other time he walks up, it’s to the dulcet shrieks of the screaming cowboy meme and for a straightforward reason: “Video is hilarious, so I just had to,” Jones tweeted in response to a fan applauding the choice.
He’s embraced the Diamondbacks’ themed outfits for road trips, leaning in particularly on the Marte Day and any chance to wear a Canadian tuxedo. Festive road trips are nothing new to him. His close friend Pat Thomas detailed how he and Jones followed the Ravens’ Super Bowl run on the road in 2013. In classic Jones fashion, he made friends at every tailgate, happy to mingle and sample some food. (This, of course, is separate from the road trip when Jones and Thomas ran into Rob Gronkowski at a bar in Boston, and Jones demanded they take a shirtless picture together.)
He’s brought the tradition of pieing teammates in the face after a big win, a carryover from his Baltimore days, to Arizona. Nick Ahmed described it as colder than expected, but good and certainly a celebration that leaves a lasting impression: “(It’s) still kind of in my nose and ears and all that.”
No one was surprised to see him adjust quickly. Jones is adaptable and settled into the clubhouse in Arizona instantly. It’s others who are still adjusting.
“He is missed. He is missed here,” Brown says while the teams at Radecke Playfield back in Baltimore warm up. “If you do me a favor? When you go back and see him, tell him he can always come home to Gardenville baseball.”
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Adam Jones talks about Diamondbacks’ struggles to get over .500
Diamondbacks right fielder Adam Jones says he’s not sure why his team can’t go on an extended run and move beyond the .500 mark.