The tributes to Adam Jones will reach a crescendo Sunday as the Orioles’ face of the franchise for more than a decade will play what will likely be his final game in the uniform with which he’s become synonymous.
If the past two nights were any indication, Jones will receive a standing ovation before every at-bat. Fans will make signs. They will chant his name. Some might cry, because saying goodbye is difficult.
“I imagine there’s going to be plenty of crying in baseball on Sunday,” said Heather Linington-Noble, a Canton resident who has a 29-game plan and plans to attend Sunday’s game.
Linington-Noble attended last year’s final game of the season, when longtime fixture J.J. Hardy played his last game with the Orioles. She remembers fans crying throughout the seating bowl for Hardy, but predicted Jones will evoke even more emotion.
“That was emotional enough for everyone,” she said. “And it’s not to disparage [Hardy], but he didn’t have the same significance to the fans and the team and to the fans and the city of Baltimore, so I can only imagine that it will be even more emotional and intense this time around.”
Who knows how Jones will react? He’s treated every round of applause this weekend the way he knows how, by drowning it out and focusing on winning a baseball game.
“I know he doesn’t [express it],” Jones’ wife, Audie Fugett Jones, said. “I don’t know. He always looks so tough on the field. He doesn’t really smile. But we all know that behind the scenes he’s always laughing and smiling. He even says to me, he notices it, obviously. But I know it means a lot to him. How could it not? … It is kind of sad for everyone. Who knows what will happen next year? But it’s weird, coming to a close, being here for 11 years and now just thinking … You know, you never know what could happen. It’s bittersweet, I guess.”
But it is remarkable to hear how revered Jones is with Orioles fans. Jones said Saturday he believed he was appreciated here because he went to work every day trying to do his best.
“I’ve been following this team for really all my life and for me he’s the Oriole which represents what used to be The Oriole Way,” said Bayne Rector, a Cecil County native who now lives in North Garden, Va. “The Orioles used to be a team of excellence and used to do everything well and they were the model for what teams should be. And he fit that mold. He and Cal [Ripken Jr.] were two guys who fit that mold to a tee.”
Baltimore has a rare connection to its sports figures, but Jones’ contributions would be rare in any city and in any era because he not only was the Orioles’ most consistent player on the field for so long, and he invested in the community off it.
Jones, who grew up in San Diego, gave back after becoming a prominent figure in Baltimore.
“I think Adam is a good success story of someone who didn’t come from a lot, but he made a lot and he knows he didn’t do it on his own,” said Matt Death, the vice president of corporate and business partnerships for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore and previously community outreach coordinator for the Orioles. “He did it with the right support system and with a couple assets now being there in his life, he could be a lot different person right now.
“So what he wants to do is minimize the amount of kids who make the wrong decision or go the wrong way. And I think he knows that he’s one of the few people who can stand up and make a difference just with his status, with his financial well-being. He just wanted to make sure there could be another Adam Jones and not another tragedy.”
Jones, 33, has impacted many lives away from the cheering crowds at Camden Yards. From youth baseball teams in Northeast Baltimore to the four area Boys & Girls Clubs he helped renovate, to the scholarships he’s funded, the educational programs he’s backed, the tickets he’s given, Jones has touched many.
“I get a lot of messages from kids across the country that just admire the way I play the game of baseball and ask me random questions on how to do this and that,” Jones said. “It’s cool to being able to transition from the guy who just wanted to come and make a name for himself to the guy who’s giving advice to the younger generation. So, it’s been a blessing to be able to have that cool transition. Most people aren’t able to have a transition like that.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Jones took his role in the community seriously, and always made time for contributing throughout the grind of a long season, all while maintaining his performance on the field.
“If you don’t have a pure heart about it, you don’t need to be doing it,” Showalter said. “You’d be better off just throwing cash out of a building and see how many people gather at the bottom. Adam wants to do it with a purpose. I’ve seen times when he’s been at the ballpark and I know he’s been somewhere. He’s been at a YMCA or at a function where he had to get up early. … Adam, I never saw it affect his play, the things he committed to do the next day. … There’s a lot of things that he got up and did that weren’t on the front page. But he did them because they’re right.”
At Baltimore’s Gardenville Grays youth baseball league, the kids just know him as Adam. Jones first became involved with the league while doing an Orioles youth clinic several years ago. He served as a speaker at the organization’s fundraising banquet. Every year, he’d donate signed bats and balls for the team’s auction. He became a frequent visitor to their games, sometimes announced and other times unannounced. He took them to the movies twice, including a screening of the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson.
“These kids have been around him so much that they weren’t even star-struck by him anymore,” league president Will Brown said. “And to me that’s unbelievable. I’ve been around baseball in this city since 1972. Al Bumbry used to be out in the community [when I was growing up], but Al Bumbry was wasn’t near as accessible as Adam Jones was. Nowhere near.”
None of Baltimore’s Boys & Girls Clubs are in facilities they’ve built. They occupy housing developments, rec centers or community centers, and they were in need of renovation. Jones’ contributions allowed that. In each of the first four years of his six-year contract that ends this year, Jones – who was a member of the Encanto Boys & Girls Club growing up in San Diego — picked one club to fix up.
He donated to build a computer lab at the Brooklyn O’Malley club in Brooklyn, then helped make a computer lab and teen room at the Westport/Winans Homes club where kids can gather and play games. A third computer lab was built at Webster Kendrick/Callaway Elementary School. All three labs — or tech centers — look the same, painted in orange with Jones’ jersey hanging, all three bearing Jones’ name. It is there where kids have the opportunity to learn computer literacy and participate in STEM and coding programs. Jones also made a donation to renovate the gym at the O’Donnell Heights club in Southeast Baltimore, a project that included replacing the backboards and gym floor and putting in wall padding.
“For Adam every year to redo a room, sometimes two rooms, just the feel, the look, the vibe it gives our kids, it’s almost like taking this hidden gem and transforming it and it changes the attitude of our young people, our staff and parents,” said Y’landa Simmons, the chief operating officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore. “For us, it’s been great because all of these rooms stand out and our kids can tell you, ‘Oh, Adam did this room for us.’ … They individualize it as though they’re his best friend.”
Last year, Jones and his wife began funding a scholarship for the Boys & Girls Club’s Youth of the Year award winners. Five finalists, one from each club, are selected, each given a $1,000 college scholarship, and one winner is selected to receive an additional $5,000 for their education. Adam and Audie Jones are among the judges who select the winner after speeches delivered by each finalist at a ceremony in the B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards.
While the monetary contributions are huge, Simmons said Jones’ desire to be around the kids at the clubs makes him stand out.
“It’s not only the fact that he gives presents such as redoing rooms, but also gives presence,” Simmons said. “He’s at our clubs. The kids know him. He makes them feel like he knows them all individually. … The presents and the presence is really what’s important. … I’ve been here 10 years with the organization. I’ve seen a lot of donors and a lot of sponsors, but none of them can really match the dedication and the passion and obviously the dollars that he gives the organization.”
While the six statues that honor the Orioles Hall of Famers recognize individuals who won World Series championships and are enshrined in Cooperstown, Rector said Jones belongs with them one day.
“It’s more of what he’s meant to the city of Baltimore,” Rector said. “I know he does not have Hall of Fame numbers, but there are some things that are just as valuable. The goodwill that he has generated among all Baltimoreans … you won’t see many of them like him in the future.”