Atlanta Braves great Andruw Jones remembers Savannah for rare incident in baseball career

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In this May 27, 2007, file photo, Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones goes above the wall to steal a home run from the Philadelphia Phillies' Greg Dobbs during the third inning at Turner Field in Atlanta.
In this May 27, 2007, file photo, Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones goes above the wall to steal a home run from the Philadelphia Phillies' Greg Dobbs during the third inning at Turner Field in Atlanta.

It happened in Savannah. Never before and never since in former Atlanta Braves great Andruw Jones' long professional baseball career.

That's 17 seasons and 2,196 games in Major League Baseball. Never happened once, Jones said Friday.

"That was the only time I got thrown out of a professional game and that was in A ball," said Jones, now 45 and a special assistant to the Atlanta Braves' baseball operations department.

Jones played for Macon Braves in 1995, his second season in the minors. The Curacao native was 18 years old and already in the Class A South Atlantic League, which then included the Savannah Cardinals and their already historic ballpark, Grayson Stadium.

Keeping up with Jones: Andruw Jones to speak at Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards on June 10

Event details: 2022 Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards set for June 10 at Johnny Mercer Theatre

"I have been to Savannah quite a few times after that. But what part I remember from Savannah, I got thrown out my first time ever in a baseball game in Savannah," Jones said.

He was asked about Savannah because he will return June 10 at 7:30 p.m. as the special guest speaker at the 2022 Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards. The in-person show had been virtual, streamed online in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Johnny Mercer Theatre at the Savannah Civic Center will be the setting for the annual show, presented by Georgia Ports. The show is produced with support from Chatham Orthopaedic Associates.

More than 200 high school athletes from across the Coastal Empire area will be honored. The show also will name players of the year for more than 20 sports and several major awards, including overall players of the year, team of the year, coach of the year and the Courage Award.

Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones makes a diving catch to retire the Chicago Cubs' Michael Barrett in the seventh inning in Atlanta on  June  9, 2007. Atlanta won 9-5.
Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones makes a diving catch to retire the Chicago Cubs' Michael Barrett in the seventh inning in Atlanta on June 9, 2007. Atlanta won 9-5.

Back to 1995, when Atlanta's affiliate in Macon featured Jones for 139 games (of his relatively brief 332-game minor-league career). Jones batted .278 with 41 doubles, five triples 25 homers and 100 RBI and led the South Atlantic League with 104 runs scored, nine sacrifice flies and 56 steals.

He was thrown out just 11 times in 67 attempts, and at least one of those times — officially — was in Savannah at second base.

"I thought I was safe. I was mad, and I tossed my helmet to the coach and (the umpire) threw me out of the game," Jones said. "That's my memory that I remember from Savannah."

This is a 2007 file photo of Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.
This is a 2007 file photo of Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

He does have pleasant memories, too, of being a teenager from a beautiful, small island in the Caribbean who signed at 16 with the Braves organization. At 17, he started rookie ball and his travels in the United States, seeing towns big and small.

"It was exciting for me," Jones said. "I was extremely overwhelmed with how everything is and how many trees are all over the place and stuff like that. So I enjoy every place, every city that I played through the minor leagues."

Those familiar with Jones' pro career know he didn't stay down in the farm system long. In 1996, he was promoted from Single-A Durham to Double-A Greenville to Triple-A Richmond, putting up big numbers and receiving a call-up to the big-league club in Atlanta.

That's exceptionally fast, but Jones was exceptional, earning recognition as one of the top prospects in all of the minors. He was just 19 and the fourth-youngest player in Atlanta history.

Since he was a little boy in Curacao, he dreamed of getting to the big leagues — in his own way.

"I never say Major League Baseball," Jones recalled. "I say I wanna play baseball on TV."

He was on the biggest stage in baseball, and there were plenty of TV cameras.

The Atlanta Braves' Andruw Jones watches his three-run home run in the third inning of Game 1 of the World Series against the New York Yankees in New York, in this Oct. 20, 1996 file photo. At right is Yankees catcher Jim Leyritz.
The Atlanta Braves' Andruw Jones watches his three-run home run in the third inning of Game 1 of the World Series against the New York Yankees in New York, in this Oct. 20, 1996 file photo. At right is Yankees catcher Jim Leyritz.

Atlanta advanced all the way to the World Series against the New York Yankees, and Jones was playing left field in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium. He homered in the second inning off Andy Pettitte in his first at-bat to become the youngest player (19 years, five months) to accomplish that feat in a World Series, replacing Mickey Mantle (18 months older) atop the list.

Jones homered in his second World Series at-bat, too, in the third inning off Brian Boehringer in Atlanta's 12-1 victory.

Though the Yankees would recover to beat the Braves in six games, it was an incredible start to Jones' career.

He went on to be their center fielder, earn 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1998-2007 and be a five-time National League All-Star (2000, '02, '03, '05 and '06). Jones was an NL Silver Slugger Award winner in 2005 when he led the league in homers (51) and RBI (128) and finished second in the MVP voting.

Jones rounded out his MLB career with brief stops with the Dodgers (2008), Rangers (2009), White Sox (2010) and Yankees (2011-12) before finishing his playing career in Japan in 2013-14.

Andruw Jones will appear at the Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards on June 10 at the Johnny Mercer Theatre at the Savannah Civic Center.
Andruw Jones will appear at the Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards on June 10 at the Johnny Mercer Theatre at the Savannah Civic Center.

On the ballot for Baseball Hall of Fame

A member of the Braves' hall of fame, Jones has been on the ballot for five of a potential 10 years for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Each year he has gotten closer to Cooperstown by percentage of the ballots, including 41.4% in 2022, but still shy of the 75% required for election.

"Every year when it comes up, I'm just thankful to still be on the ballot," Jones said. "If I never make it, I would just be as humble and appreciated that I've kept staying on the ballot for that long. So if it happens, it happens."

He's trending up, from 7.3% in 2018 to 7.5% in 2019 to 19.4% in 2020 to 33.9% in 2020 and closer to half of the 2022 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

"I would love to be in there," Jones said. "Some people don't think that I have the right numbers to be there, so those things you can't control all that stuff. It's just it is what it is."

The right numbers would be supported by his many dazzling defensive plays in the outfield en route to those Gold Glove awards. He also totaled 434 home runs, 1,204 runs scored and 1,289 RBIs, though his career averages dipped in his final seasons in the big leagues, such as a .254 batting average.

"So if it happens, I will be grateful, I'll be thankful," Jones said. "But if it don't happen, I look back and I see a lot of guys that had great careers through the major leagues that never got opportunity to be on the ballot or make it to the Hall of Fame.

"But for right now if it happens, you know it will be great. But if it don't, I would still be the same person."

Former Atlanta Braves player Andruw Jones and special guest of the team walks to the dugout after delivering the lineup card to the umpires before a  spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros on March 25, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla.
Former Atlanta Braves player Andruw Jones and special guest of the team walks to the dugout after delivering the lineup card to the umpires before a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros on March 25, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla.

Honoring Savannah's top athletes, coaches

Jones is looking forward to speaking to the high school student-athletes, coaches, teams and others honored in Savannah during the awards show and congratulating them on their achievements.

Though he didn't graduate from high school — having signed an amateur free agent — Jones will stress the importance of an education, of attending college and earning a degree.

"If you don't get an education, you know you're gonna be lost out there," Jones said. "Sport is fun and all that stuff, whatever career you choose is fun, but you need the education to be a better person in the world."

It will be an interesting choice ahead for his son Druw Jones, a senior outfielder at Wesleyan near Norcross. Druw Jones, a Vanderbilt commit, is rated as a first-round prospect, perhaps the top pick, in the 2022 MLB amateur draft on July 17-19.

"He's got a good head on his shoulders," his father said. "I just let him play and do his own thing."

Naturally, comparisons are drawn between father and son, and Andruw understands that. He said "so many people are saying so much stuff" about his son's major league potential. He wants Druw to have fun playing baseball, though he couldn't help but have some fun, too, with the comparisons.

"He actually is a really good baseball player all around," Andruw Jones said. "But at 19 years old, I already was in the major leagues. So he's got a long way to go."

Coastal Empire Sports Awards are part of the USA TODAY network
Coastal Empire Sports Awards are part of the USA TODAY network

More about the awards show

Learn more about the program and see which athletes have already been named nominees on the show website herehttps://sportsawards.usatoday.com/coastalempire/

Nominated athletes must register for the event here, https://ventures.enmotive.com/events/register/coastal-empire-high-school-sports-awards-nominated-athletes-and-coaches.

Each nominated athlete will receive one free ticket for their admittance to the show. Additional tickets may be purchased herehttps://www.ticketmaster.com/event/0E005C8F8A1E34A9

The Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards is part of the USA Today High School Sports Awards program, the largest high school sports recognition program in the country.

For more about the teams in the fall and winter sports, go to https://www.savannahnow.com/sports/coastal-empire-high-school-sports-awards/.

Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor of the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at ndominitz@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @NathanDominitz

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Atlanta Braves baseball great Andruw Jones speaker Savannah awards