Worth The Sacrifice

By The Associated Press
Updated: April 24, 2010

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

BALTIMORE — As the only African-American on the Baltimore Orioles ‘ 25-man roster, Adam Jones views his situation with wisdom and hope.

“It doesn’t bother me one bit. I understand it,” he said. “Of course I’d love to have more black people on my team. We’ve got some in the minors.

They’ve got to make it up here.”

African-Americans accounted for only 10.2 percent of the major league rosters in 2008, the first season since 1995 in which there was an increase over the previous year, according to the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

Statistics for 2009 have not been compiled, yet Jones need only look around to know he’s part of a distinct minority.

Others have noticed, too.

Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron said recently that Atlanta Brave rookie Jason Heyward , who is black, “can mean an awful lot to what ails baseball.”

Aaron, reiterating his concern over the lack of African-Americans in the game, said, “We do need to have many, many more Jason Heywards.”

There are plenty of players of color in the majors. Most are Latin Americans, whom Los Angeles Angel outfielder Torii Hunter last month called “impostors” before apologizing for the remark.

“What I meant was they’re not black players; they’re Latin American players,” Hunter said. “There is a difference culturally.”

Growing up in the inner city of San Diego, Jones picked baseball over basketball and sold candy on street corners to raise enough money to buy a glove. His dedication paid off: He played in the All-Star game last year, became a Gold Glove center fielder and is poised to earn millions.

But Jones readily acknowledges that baseball isn’t for everyone — especially a poor kid growing up in a video-game world.

“Baseball is expensive. You have to buy a bat, glove, cleats, batting gloves, uniform. That stuff adds up compared to other sports,” he said.

“If you look at it on TV, it is among the least interesting sports.

It’s a standstill sport. It’s boring, it’s long. At the same time, it’s the most skilled sport. Some people might think it’s too hard, because it is hard. But it’s a great game. I’m glad I chose to play it. That was the one I was best at.”

As a member of the league’s RBI Program — Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities — Jones hopes to inspire others by following the examples set by African-Americans who played before him.

“I think Adam is a very articulate young man that has pride,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. “I remember in Yankee Stadium when I introduced him to Reggie Jackson, it was ‘Mr. Jackson.’ Adam is just a special young man with an awful lot of talent and ability.”

Aaron expressed hope that Heyward can inspire blacks in Atlanta to take up baseball. Jones has launched his own campaign in Baltimore, visiting city schools and community centers to promote the game.

“I do it for the right reasons. It doesn’t matter what race—black, white, Mexican, Latino, Asian—I’ll go out to help any kid who wants to play baseball,” Jones said. “I’m not saying the game is in trouble, but I want to help it along.

“I love to see the faces on the kids. They love us. We’re role models. It’s crazy. I’m only 24, but I’m a role model in Baltimore and even in California. I like that. I have a good time with them. It’s not like I’m an instructor. I try to be a friend to them.”

The easygoing Jones has plenty of buddies in the Baltimore clubhouse.

Florida native Robert Andino accompanied Jones on a trip to an inner city Baltimore elementary school last season, and the two were nearly inseparable at spring training this year.

But Andino was sent to the minors before opening day.

Now, as Baltimore’s lone black player, Jones has taken it upon himself to show the kids in the neighborhood that playing baseball is worth the sacrifice.

“I don’t tell them my whole story,” he said. “I ask them what’s going on with them, what they need. They’re eager to play. I just want to help make that happen.”