Jeff Jones: The late bloomer

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April 9, 2009

11:34 PM

By any measure, Jeff Jones is fast.

So fast that when the senior outfielder runs 60 meter sprints with the rest of his Tribe teammates, he scorches them, finishing the distance in a blazing 6.47 seconds. There’s also little question as to who is the fastest player in the entire CAA, as Jones has sprinted his way to 18 stolen bases in 22 attempts, considerably better than the second-highest total of 14.

“I’ll take on anybody in a race,” Jones said.

Given Jones’s need for speed, it’s something of a surprise that it has taken him three seasons to develop into an everyday player. But considering how well he’s playing this season, it’s safe to say that he’s been well worth the wait.

Through 28 games this season, Jones has led the College of William and Mary with a .375 batting average, scoring 26 runs and notching 17 RBIs in the process. He has staked his claim as the team’s no. 3 hitter in the batting order, holding down the heart of the team’s lineup and becoming the Tribe’s most feared offensive player.

After struggling mightily from the plate during the first two weeks of the season, Jones found his swing during a home stand against Princeton in early March. He went 9 for 18 during the four-game series, notched 3 doubles, a triple, a home run and 3 stolen bases. The series helped jump-start a 16-game hitting streak for Jones.

“I just started seeing the ball better,” Jones said. “I developed more confidence and became a lot more comfortable at the plate. I started expecting to get a hit every at-bat.”

Jones has had to step up this year following the departure of several key players from last year’s team, which was nothing short of an offensive juggernaut at the hitter-friendly Plumeri Park. The Tribe trotted out the league’s highest-powered offense, led by .400 hitters Tim Park and Mike Sheridan. Park, Jones’ current roommate, is now a volunteer assistant with the team. Sheridan is in the Tampa Bay Rays’ minor league system after being picked in the fifth round of last year’s MLB draft.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Jones said.

Jones saw limited action during his first three years. Despite wanting to get out on the field, Jones understood that he needed some time on the sideline.

“When I came in, I was really raw,” he said. “It took me about two years to build up my skills to be competitive.”

After putting in that time, his work over the past four years is finally paying off this season. Not only is he a dynamic hitter at the plate, a constant threat to rip off an extra-base hit, but he’s taken the lessons of Park and Sheridan to heart. He works tirelessly to battle through at-bats and always be a tough out for a pitcher.

“Tim has taught me so much with baseball,” Jones said. “He taught me to never give up an at-bat. You never want to make it easy on a pitcher.”

Opposing pitchers have taken notice.

“If I make good pitches on him, he’ll battle,” an opposing CAA pitcher said following a recent matchup with the Tribe. “He’s one of those guys who I may get him out every now and then, but I’ll get him out, and he’ll barrel one up still.”

Pro scouts are beginning to pay attention to Jones as well. So far he has received interest letters and requests for personal information and health forms from about half of Major League Baseball’s organizations, a good first step toward his goal of getting drafted this June. It’s too early to predict Jones’ chances of getting picked, but his immense physical tools and hot early season hitting are two promising signs. If he goes undrafted, Jones plans to do whatever it takes to continue pursuing his dream of playing professional baseball, whether that means going to minor league tryouts or looking at smaller league options.

The more pressing matter on Jones’s plate right now (not counting his May 17 graduation from the College with an economics degree) is helping to get the 10th-place Tribe into the league’s top six spots for the CAA tournament bid by the end of the season. Given the team’s tough early schedule and some growing pains (the team has 10 true freshmen this season), Jones thinks the Tribe will be able to right its ship and make it back to the playoffs this year.

“After [this weekend’s three-game road series against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington], we have some home games we have to take advantage of,” Jones said.

If the team is to make the playoffs, it’ll require a fast rise up the standings, while also remaining resilient during the inevitable ups and downs of a long CAA season.

Luckily for the Tribe, their no. 1 speedster has learned a thing or two about how to stay patient.

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