Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones address the media on the violence that has been in the city. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Adam Jones knows aspects of his life growing up in San Diego were the same as those of the Baltimore youth whose emotions over the death of Freddie Gray have garnered national attention.
He rode city buses to the mall after school, just like the students who were met Monday by police in riot gear at Mondawmin Mall at the outset of that day's violent protests. He saw resources dedicated to his education and recreation stripped away.
Baseball changed his path and his circumstances, but Jones, as one of the most popular athletes in the city and someone who can relate to their struggles, said Wednesday that the city's youth need a shoulder to cry on.
"I'm not far from these kids, so I understand all the things they are going through," Jones said in a thoughtful 15-minute media session ahead of the first game played behind closed doors in the history of Major League Baseball.
"I say to the youth, your frustration is warranted. The actions, I don't think are acceptable. If you come from where they come from, you understand, but ruining the community that you have to live in is never the answer. … This is their cry. This isn't a cry that is acceptable, but this is their cry and therefore, we have to understand it."
Jones, like so many city leaders in the wake of Monday's riots that led to 20 injured police officers, 235 arrests and countless city businesses destroyed, stressed the positive demonstrations that have occurred since Gray's death on April 19. Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury during his arrest on April 12, and since his death, demonstrators have been overwhelmingly peaceful in calling for justice. A portion of Saturday's protests turned violent, and Monday evening was violent from the outset.
"The last 72 hours, I think in this city, have been tumultuous to say the least," Jones said. "We've seen good, we've seen bad, we've seen ugly. … The big message is stay strong, Baltimore. Stay safe. Continue to be the great city that I've known to love over the last eight years I've been here. Continue to be who you are. I know there's a lot of damage in the city. There's also been a lot of good protesting.
"Obviously, you can see everybody's not on the same page. The youth are hurting, as the older guys, the older community owe it to the youth to continue to educate them, continue to strengthen them, continue to be by their sides. That's what they need."
Many Orioles spoke about the impact the protest had on their families, their routines and their lives both on and off the field. But Jones' comments were separated from the normal open locker room setting. As he has before, Jones used his experiences to try to relate real-life struggles with their impact on a baseball game.
Manager Buck Showalter asked how he did, and when he was told Jones spoke well, Showalter said he wasn't surprised. Whenever he's called upon to speak about race relations or city issues, Jones comes through.
Earlier this month, Jones spoke of sports as a unifying factor in society on Jackie Robinson Day. He said as much on Wednesday, and lamented the "showcase game" atmosphere created by the lack of fans.
"I wish that we had fans to help with the healing process," Jones said. "The other part of deciding to play the game, that's up to the commissioner and owners. That's way out of my hands, but sports bring people together — black, white or indifferent.
"They bring us together, and for those three hours, they can have beers, can have hot dogs, nachos, some Boogs [barbeque] and forget about our daily lives. But today, we just have to play a Major League Baseball game without any fans."
Like Showalter and his Orioles teammates, Jones understood the circumstances of Wednesday's game had little to do with baseball, but that didn't mean the players would treat it as anything other than a game they need to win. By putting on the uniform, they owe it to themselves and the fans watching on television to be focused once the first pitch is thrown.
Passion is typically derived from the fans, he said, but as professionals, it's on the Orioles and Chicago White Sox to generate it on their own.
"I love fans," he said. "They're the passion behind us, but [it's] for their personal security. It doesn't matter how many [police] you have out there. For individual security, it makes sense to not have any people here today."