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Mariners’ Jones uses baseball as platform to share Christcomment (0)

May 22, 2014

By Bill Sorrell

Mariners’ Jones uses baseball as platform to share Christ

Hitting a home run that he didn’t think went out, James Jones ran as hard as he could around the bases.

“That was pretty embarrassing,” he said. “I thought they were trying to throw me out. They were [throwing] the ball in because it ricocheted off something.”

A right fielder for the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals, the 25-year-old Jones ran home a lot in 2013. He scored 44 runs and led the Double-A Southern League in triples with 10. He ranked 29th among its top 100 hitters with a .275 batting average and had 45 RBI from his 100 hits. He was promoted to Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, Tacoma, at the end of the 2013 season and began 2014 there.

Called up to the Mariners from April 18 to 20, Jones singled in his MLB debut. And then May 5 he was called back up to the Mariners and was still there at press time.

“I love playing this game. It’s a big opportunity to show what a relationship with Christ is all about,” he said. 

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Jones became a believer after his sister Sophia invited him to an Easter service.

“Just listening to the story of Christ and what He did for me; how He died for my sins and made me righteous through what He had done on the cross and His finished work” became the turning point, Jones said. “He wants a personal relationship in the big things and the little things that you don’t think He cares about. ... Christ wants to have a relationship rather than me doing stuff for Him. ... He wants to know the ins and outs of me. I love that it is that way.”

‘Ooze out of you’

“Your relationship with Christ should just ooze out of you naturally to where it becomes a catalyst with other people,” he said. “I am a light where everything I do is a reflection of my relationship with Christ. ... My goal is for people to see Christ in me.” 

Jones had not planned to be an outfielder when he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 Major League Draft. A junior, he was a pitcher at Long Island University and hurling 96 mph fastballs. As a sophomore he was ranked 30th in Baseball America’s Top 100 college prospects. 

The road to Seattle began in Everett, Wash., where he batted .311 and in 2010 was named the Best Outfield Arm in the Mariner’s organization. At Class-A Clinton, Iowa, he slammed 12 homers and 10 triples, scored 87 runs, had 102 hits and batted .269. He sparked Clinton’s rebound from a “bad” first half to the league championship game before losing.

Assigned to the Class-A Advanced California League High Desert in 2012, Jones again was on a playoff team. The Mavericks fell in the semifinals.

A line drive hitter, Jones’ focus at the plate is to hit the ball hard. “After it leaves my bat, I can’t control it. Just keeping that simple plan is what has helped me,” he said.

Chris Taylor, a shortstop with Tacoma, said Jones hits the ball consistently and hard in the gaps.

“It helps that he is a pretty fast runner. Triples a lot of times are freak things. You have to have a funny bounce over an outfielder’s head. You can’t really plan them. Probably the toughest thing to do at the plate is to hit a triple, and he has got a lot of them.”

Jones also has had a lot of injuries — a fractured forearm, strained triceps and pulled ligaments — which has been his biggest challenge as well as a turning point in his faith. 

“I learned it’s not about me — as much as I want to excel in this game — and it’s not about what I want to do, it’s about what God wants for me,” he said. “It’s just knowing what His will is for me. It’s separating my selfish desires to do His will.”

A member of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, Jones studies the Bible and reads voraciously. 

Having “a good circle around me that keeps me in line” also is vital, he said. His favorite Bible verse is 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

While with the Generals, some teammates joined Jones in baseball chapel. First baseman Steven Proscia, who now plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, said Jones’ smile, positive attitude and the way he controls his emotions are a reflection of God.

“He knows Someone is watching over him. He knows he has that Person to turn to. We talk about our faith,” said Proscia.  “It’s more about how I feel about Christ being in my life and how I think I am doing everything I can to play for Him.”

Brandon Bantz, a former catcher with the Mariners organization now with the Harrisburg affiliate of the Washington Nationals, shares Jones’ evangelical faith. They were roommates in 2009.

“You can see James’ faith coming out in his personality,” Bantz said. “The way he walks around all the time and just the joy that he has. If I could describe him in one word it would be joy. He is always joyful, always smiling. As the Scripture says you will know them because of their joy.”

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