As we celebrate Black History Month, it's interesting to note that Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones makes his teammates laugh the hardest when he does what manager Buck Showalter calls Jones' "white guy voice."
"He'll start talking like a white guy when he says to [Steve] Pearce, 'C'mon Steve.' It gives me a belly laugh like no one else," Showalter said. "But Adam mimics everyone. He mimics [coach Wayne] Kirby better than Kirby. At Adam's wedding, Adam mimicked what I do during the game on the bench, how I pick up the phone, how I signal to a catcher, everything I do. How can he even see me from center field? Every spring, we do a talent show. Adam could do the whole talent show by himself if he wanted."
Jones said with his own belly laugh, "No, no, I have too much service time for that. But I love to imitate the coaches especially. I do, I got Kirby down to a T. I pay attention. I observe my surroundings. Buck is a very observant guy, but I observe what is going on around me. I study people's antics. Everyone has little niches. And somehow, I can make Buck and [bench coach] John Russell laugh. That's not easy. That's the hardest thing to do."
And then Jones stopped laughing, paused and said, "But when that game starts ..."
When that game starts, that's when we see the other side of Jones, one of the best players in the American League, and the intense leader of the Orioles.
"When I first got here , he was our best player, but he also played the game the right way," Showalter said. "His words come with a lot of weight. He walks the walk. No one plays harder than Adam Jones. Nine innings, 90 feet, no one. That's not something that everyone can do in the big leagues, play hard every play, post up every day. Sometimes, he wants to override his brain, but we don't want to take that away from him. We don't want him to be a robot. He will tell the truth, and he will say it to your face. He loves to win, doesn't like to lose."
Jones, 29, has been an Oriole for seven years. In 2012, he signed a six-year deal worth $85.5 million, the biggest contract in club history, which he received in part because he has played 149, 151, 162, 160 and 159 games the past five years.
"I let people know what the blueprint of the Orioles is, it's not rocket science, it's as simple as it gets: bring it every day," he said. "There are no selfish guys here. If you are selfish, you get your a-- kicked."
Added Showalter: "He has been as good for me here as I hope I have been for him. The first week I was here, he said all the right things, and he was sincere. Adam has a lot of cachet. He has earned it. He has earned that freedom. We have three or four guys like that. If new guys need answers to their questions, I tell them to watch the guys who have been here, like Adam. If you don't understand them, then you're stupid, and you have to go. When we were deciding [in 2014] to sign Delmon [Young], I knew I had Adam. He does drills like it's the seventh game of the World Series. When we got [outfielder Alejandro] De Aza last year, we heard he was a little lazy, but I didn't worry because we had Adam. When we got [outfielder Travis] Snider [from Pittsburgh in January], I didn't worry. [Outfielder] Nelson [Cruz] had figured out some short cuts when he got to us [in 2014], but the first day, we did some serious drills. He kind of asked, 'We do these on the first day? Don't we get some time to ease into it?' Adam said, 'We don't do things that way here.'"
Added Jones: "When teammates talk to me, they know I'm not going to lie to them. I'm not going to tell them, 'Hey, you should hit more home runs,' or 'Hey, you should strike out more hitters.' But I'm damn sure going to tell them that, as an Oriole, you will give a great effort. That's the moral of the story here: play with effort, play with awareness. If they don't bust their butt, there will be a bus ticket to [Triple-A] Norfolk waiting for them. I'm not real vocal in the clubhouse because everyone is having fun in there, but no one is ever going to come to me and say, 'Hey, you don't hustle,' because I know I did."
That mentality comes from Jones' upbringing in San Diego, playing baseball, basketball and football on the fields and in the streets with his brothers, cousins and friends. Many of those friends then remain his friends today.
"I have met some of his friends, they are good guys, classy guys," Showalter said. "A couple of years ago, we needed a bullpen catcher. Adam recommended a guy he went to high school with. The guy has been great for us, so professional. Adam's best friend is [outfielder] Quintin Berry. He's a great guy."
The Mariners made Jones their No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. He shined as a minor leaguer, but in 2008, Jones and four other Mariners, including Orioles ace Chris Tillman, were sent to Baltimore for pitcher Erik Bedard. It was one of the worst deals in Mariners history.
"When I was with Seattle, [infielder] Mark McLemore gave me the blueprint on how everything is going to happen in pro ball," Jones said. "Everything he said has happened. I am in a unique position now, I relish being where I am. But I want to give back."
He does in many ways, mostly in San Diego and Baltimore. He has what he calls "a brotherhood" of major league players "that hang together and work out together," including, among others, the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin; pitcher Edwin Jackson; former major leaguer Junior Spivey; and outfielders Cameron Maybin and Matt Kemp.
"I really believe he could run for mayor of Baltimore when he is done playing. He bought a house here. He married a girl from here. For Adam, it's all about commitment."Buck Showalter, Orioles manager
"We are trying to promote baseball in our cities and our communities," Jones said. "We know how fortunate we are, and we've all agreed to try to give back as much as we can. I take tremendous pride doing what I'm doing. When I got to pro ball, there were more black players around, maybe two, three, four per team. Now there aren't that many. Some teams have none. So, we're trying to get more [black] kids playing baseball. There are other sports for them, but if they play baseball, they're going to be good because they have talent."
As for Jones' talent, it grows all the time. He has hit at least 19 home runs in each of the past six seasons. In each of the past four, he has hit at least 25 home runs and driven in at least 80 runs. The past five years, he has hit, in order, .280, .287, .285, .281 and .280, and won four Gold Gloves. He strikes out too much (who doesn't these days?) and doesn't walk enough. But Jones says, "I have proven to the baseball world and the people of Baltimore what I can do. But I have just cracked the mold on what I can do. When I get in that batter's box, I have no fear. I have evolved as a player that way. Look at some of the greatest players in recent years, [Barry] Bonds, [Ken] Griffey [Jr.], [Craig] Biggio, Tony Gwynn, they were all prepared. That's me, always trying to get better. I'm like a website, you know, under construction."
The Orioles know what they have: a bright, funny, intense center fielder who plays every day.
"I really believe he could run for mayor of Baltimore when he is done playing," Showalter said. "He bought a house here. He married a girl from here. For Adam, it's all about commitment. When we won the [AL East] last year, and he ran around the stadium in the celebration [shaking hands with fans], that was real. That was sincere. Whether he's in a tuxedo at his wedding or in a duck blind, he knows how to communicate with all people."
And, Showalter knows, if Jones ever gets out of line, all they have to do is call his mother.
"His button is his mom," Showalter said. "You don't want to piss her off."
Jones laughs about that. His mom, Andrea Bradley, "is the sweetest woman in the world," Jones said. "When we go to Anaheim, we bring her down on the field. She leaves Buck and Kirby laughing. She watches all our games, she TiVos them. Sometimes, I'll get a long text from her after a game saying, 'Could you please stop cursing.' So I will. Then I'll get another long text from her a couple of days later saying, 'Could you please stop cursing.' I say, 'Mom, it's an emotional game. You curse, too.' She said, 'We're not talking about me, we're talking about you.' Sweetest woman in the world, but she can flip a switch in a hurry."
Just like her son, who goes from the funniest guy on the team, to the most intense guy on the field.