There's a distinct dichotomy that surrounds Orioles center fielder Adam Jones in Baltimore.
He is the club's most consistent performer and surely one of its most ardent community ambassadors. His No. 10 jersey is the most prevalent on any given night in the stands at Camden Yards. On a team known for its grittiness, no one plays harder or more often.
On Monday night, Jones competed in the annual Home Run Derby, hitting three home runs in the second round but didn't advance to the final. On Tuesday night at Target Field in Minneapolis, Jones will join teammates Nelson Cruz and the injured Matt Wieters — all of whom were elected to start by the fans — in representing the Orioles at baseball's annual All-Star Game.
It's Jones' fourth All-Star appearance in seven full seasons in the major leagues and his second straight start. He's just the second outfielder in franchise history to be selected to three consecutive All-Star Games, joining only Hall of Famer Frank Robinson with that distinction.
And, yet, log on to Twitter, search an Orioles message board or sidle up to a bar in the Baltimore area and mention Jones. Then wait for the inevitable criticism: Jones swings out of his shoes; he can't lay off a slider in the dirt; he won't take a walk; he allows too many fly balls to go over his head; he keeps blowing that bubble gum while running for a catch.
Jones, who is hitting .301 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs while playing in all 94 of the American League East-leading Orioles' games this year, knows what's being said.
"I get to hear it, but at the same time they understand that I grind it out. I make them extremely happy when I swing the bat and am doing my job," Jones said about fans. "I don't go to anybody else's job and give criticism or anything like that.
"But I know this is a different situation because sports is obviously what people live vicariously through. If they had a bad day, sports can pick them up, and I get that. Hey, as long as they keep coming to the Yard and support the Orioles while I'm here, that's OK."
'My mental toughness is very strong'
Jones understands that some of the criticism rings true.
He's not a patient hitter and, consequently, he doesn't walk much — his career on-base percentage is a subpar .322 despite a strong .281 career average. He'll counter that his aggressive approach has him zeroing in on his third consecutive 30-homer season and his second straight year with 100 RBIs while ranking 12th in the AL in batting average in 2014.
Defensively, he's a three-time AL Gold Glove winner who has four errors and four outfield assists this season. When Jones misses a catch he believes that he should make, he immediately takes responsibility for it in the media. As for the bubble gum argument, well, his response to those can't be printed without blocking out several choice words.
But if the verbal barbs are warranted, Jones said he can shoulder it.
"If you can't handle constructive criticism then, trust me, you won't be in this game. This isn't a game of the weak-minded, and I'm one of the most mentally tough people — I wouldn't say ever — but my mental toughness is very strong," Jones said. "And so people will say whatever they want to say. That's fine with me. As long as you support the team, then please voice your opinion."
That's not to say, though, he'll listen and then change his ways.
"I'm glad you voice your opinion. Ain't gonna make me no difference, but I'm glad you voiced your opinion," he said.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said that's not just a line from a sensitive athlete who's trying to put on a good public face while stewing inside. Adulation or criticism, Davis said Jones is indifferent.
"I don't think Adam really cares, to be honest with you," Davis said. "I think the fact that the fans voted him in [as an All-Star], he's appreciative of that. But, at the end of the day, I don't think Adam really cares what people think. I think that's pretty obvious with the way he carries himself. And it's a good attitude to have sometimes."
'He has really grown and matured'
So that's the first part of this story. That Adam Jones is arguably the most beloved current Orioles player and also the most often criticized, at least consistently among everyday players.
The other subplot here is that, despite his warts, Jones is developing into one of the best players in modern franchise history.
He doesn't turn 29 until Aug. 1 and is signed through 2018 — at which point he'll only be 33. This is his seventh season with the Orioles, and he is skyrocketing up the franchise's record books. While playing the 18th-most games in club history, Jones ranks 13th in RBIs, 10th in homers, 14th in runs scored and is tied for 13th in hits.
Jones is one of only eight modern-day Orioles to be named to All-Star Games in at least four different seasons. The others are a who's who in franchise history: Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Mike Mussina and Boog Powell.
"He's really good. I think he is very underappreciated at times, and not only by some of the fans, but even by the guys that play against him," Davis said. "I remember playing against Jonesy when he first got over here, and he has really grown and matured so much as a hitter. It's been a lot of fun to watch."
Because he plays the same position for the same franchise, Jones always will be compared to Paul Blair, who won eight Gold Gloves and played on four World Series teams in 13 seasons with the Orioles from 1964 to 1976.
Blair made two All-Star Games in his 17-season major league career and is considered one of the greatest defensive center fielders in baseball history.
Albeit a different era, Blair did not produce the same consistent offensive numbers as Jones, who already has eclipsed Blair's career home run total and is within 100 RBIs of Blair despite playing in roughly 900 fewer games.
"Blair, obviously, was known for his defense. But he could swing the pole, too. But his defense was unbelievable. Eight Gold Gloves? That's pretty impressive," Jones said. "Eight is going to be tough to get. But I don't like to compare, 'I'm better, he is better.' We were different players in different eras, but we are just guys that loved what we did and took pride in what we did."
'Just give me one ring'
Jones said he has begun to look at his numbers — and the franchise's numbers — in a new light.
"This year has been different in terms of realizing it is still a game, but it is a career and a career path. I got my thousandth game, got my thousandth hit [this year]. I never thought I'd play that long and be able to achieve things like that," he said. "You start to accumulate certain individual accolades, and you start to look at it like, 'I've been around here for a minute. I've been around here for a little bit.'"
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he wouldn't be surprised if one day Jones has a statue behind the center field wall at Camden Yards like the franchise's cadre of Hall of Famers. He has that potential, Showalter said.
"Without a doubt, and he is on his way," Showalter said. "But like I tell him … and all our guys, all those statues out there have one thing in common: they were on championship clubs. And if you want to get a statue out there, that's what we are going to have to do."
Jones said nothing else drives him like an elusive title. Blair and the other old Orioles greats have gotten to the World Series and succeeded — and he believes that's more career-defining than All-Star Games and franchise records.
"Just give me one ring and you can have all the other individual accolades, you can take them all back," Jones said. "I just want one title: A winner. Honestly, it doesn't matter about all that other stuff. If you are a winner, I'm pretty sure they can figure it out that you helped out to win. That's all I really want.
"When I am done playing, you can call me a winner, I'm good with that."
Adam Jones with the Orioles
Games: 967 (18th in Orioles history)
Hits: 1,072 (tied for 13th)
RBIs: 523 (13th)
HRs: 153 (10th)
Runs: 545 (14th)
[Source: Orioles Public Relations]
CF Adam Jones
2014 stats: .301 avg., 16 HRs, 54 RBIs, 19 2Bs, 54 runs
DH Nelson Cruz
2014 stats: .287 avg., 28 HRs, 74 RBIs, 17 2Bs, 56 runs
C Matt Wieters
2014 stats*: .308 avg., 5 HRs, 18 RBIs, 5 2Bs, 13 runs
* injured; played 26 games
All-Star Game starting lineups
SS Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
LF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2B Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
DH Nelson Cruz, Orioles
CF Adam Jones, Orioles
3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals*
RHP Felix Hernandez, Mariners
CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
RF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
DH Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
3B Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
2B Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
C Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
LF Carlos Gomez, Brewers
RHP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
* replaces Orioles' Matt Wieters in lineupCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun