Adam Jones came back to Seattle today with an entourage — two burly guys standing by his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Safeco Field wearing Orioles’ jerseys with “Jones” on the back.
OK, it was his brother and cousin, come up from San Diego to visit Adam — who actually seems quite unaffected by the giant step into stardom he has taken this season.
“I’m just maturing as a baseball player,” he said with a shrug. “Figuring out my role and not trying to do too much. Playing the game the way I know how to play it.”
Which, as every wistful Mariners’ fan is well aware, is good enough to make him one of the game’s most exciting young players, almost certainly headed, at age 23, to his first All-Star Game.
Ensconsed in a perfect hitting spot — No. 2 in the lineup, behind Brian Roberts and ahead of Nick Markakis — Jones ranks among the American League’s top 10 in average (.344), runs (40), total bases (111), slugging (.607), outfield assists (4), home average (.360), day average (.407), average vs RHP (.364), average with runners in scoring position (.447), and multi-hit games (.447). Other than that, he’s struggling.
Asked if he feels any special tugs coming back to Seattle, Jones replied, “Nothing. It’s just a regular city. We’re on the road. Just got to come here and do what our team tries to accomplish on the road.”
In fact, he seemed to have more attachment to Tacoma. “I got to know a lot of the fans there, because I was in Tacoma for most of the time,” he said. “They’re great people. They treated me with utmost respect. I’d say last year was good for me, because they (the Orioles) gave me an opportunity, but I’m also glad I had the opportunity to play over there.”
On Tuesday, Jones will make his first appearance against Erik Bedard — the pitcher the Mariners acquired in the much-lamented trade that brought the Orioles not only Jones, but reliever George Sherrill (an All-Star last year and tied for fifth in the AL this year with 10 saves) and Chris Tillman, rated as one of thet top pitchers in the minor leagues. Plus two other minor-league pitchers, Kam Mickolio, who got to the majors for nine games last year, and Tony Butler.
Jones said there was “not really” any anticipation about facing Bedard, who never pitched against Baltimore last season.
“I knew that question was going to be asked,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun to face him. He’s one of the best; still one of the toughest pitchers to face. Why not face one of the toughest pitchers?”
Jones is said by those following the Orioles to be rapidly growing into a leadership role on a team that is undergoing a youth movement. They recently called up catcher Matt Wieters, the top-rated prospect in all the minor leagues, and Tillman should follow at some point in the second half.
“Last year, I came over here and the team embraced me like I came up all the way with them,” Jones said. “Coming to this spring training, it was the same thing. I’ve been treated well by the organization. All that has helped me out on the field.
“The last week and a half have been real fun with some of the moves that have been made, some of the youth. I’m still young. It sounds like I’m a veteran, but I’m not.”
Reflecting on his time with the Mariners, where he never got a shot at an every-day job after being Seattle’s first pick in 2003, Jones said: “It wasn’t frustrating. I knew my role and I knew the situation they were in. I worked my tail off to get better and to try to get in the lineup. It didn’t work out here. I got the opportunity to go to Baltimore and play. Hopefully, I can have a long career over in Baltimore. I love it there.”
The story of this trade, of course, is constantly evolving. If Tillman becomes a star, it will add more pain to Mariners’ fans. But if Bedard is traded, as appears likely, by the July 31 deadline and the Mariners get a batch of players that turn into stars themselves, the judgment might wind up not quite so harsh.