Long before Adam Jones established himself as a major leaguer, he was an 18-year-old playing his first full professional season in Appleton, Wisc. And that summer, while playing with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, his host family was the Jansens.
The youngest member of that family was 9-year-old Danny Jansen, who is now the Toronto Blue Jays’ top catching prospect. Before the Orioles’ series opener Monday against the Blue Jays in Toronto, Jones and Jansen saw each other for the first time in 14 years — both as major leaguers.
“I was the annoying 9-year-old asking for balls and bats of course,” Jansen said. “He was a role model to me, a superstar to me. I looked up to him. I was like his annoying little brother I think. … It was like having an older brother. Having Adam around was just so much fun. … It was a blessing.”
Jansen, 23, sat inside the Blue Jays clubhouse before Tuesday’s game, just 10 days into his major league career, and reminisced about the summer Jones spent with his family. In the minor leagues, especially at the low levels, it’s common for players to stay with host families to help them adjust to professional baseball.
Even though Jansen, whose family regularly hosted players, was young, the opportunity to have a pro player stay with him wasn’t lost on him. And Jones made an impression on the youngster.
“I remember waking him up all the time,” Jansen said. “We would play some baseball games back in the day, I remember that. We would play some whiffle ball in the back yard, probably also played some pool basketball as well. I was lucky enough to have a pool in the backyard, so I was always in there. I don’t remember a lot, but I remember that.”
Jones, 33, declined interviews before Tuesday’s game to talk about his relationship with Jansen, saying only, “I’ll tell you this, he can hit,” about the rookie who is 8-for-21 with three doubles and a homer through his first six games.
Instead, Jones decided to speak through social media, sending a tweet Monday that said in part: “So proud of you pimp. From waking me up at 7am before you had to go to school and me getting in at 4am from a loooong bus trip, to playing against each other in the show!!!! This is a Movie.”
Before Tuesday’s game, shortly before declining the interview request, Jones tweeted out a photo of him with Jansen during Jones’ season in Appleton.
As Jansen grew older, and Jones made a name for himself in the majors — becoming a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner — Jansen said he would brag to his friends about knowing Jones, who was the biggest star his family hosted.
“Of course,” Jansen said with a smile. “When I was younger I’d tell everybody all that stuff. He’s a superstar in the major leagues. … I always looked up to those guys. Every player we had, I looked up to him. I always spent my summers going to Timber Rattlers games and seeing them. They were all my role models. It definitely helped having baseball around me at all times. It really made it more passionate for me.”
In the days leading up to this week’s series, Jansen texted Jones to tell him he couldn’t wait to see him. When they saw each other before Monday’s game during batting practice, they locked eyes and shared an embrace that was 14 years in the making.
“It was crazy,” Jansen said. “It was an awesome thing. He said he was proud of me.”
During Monday’s game — in which Jansen doubled and flied out to Jones in right twice — the two also had an on-field exchange. Jansen flied out to Jones in his first at-bat in the second inning, and Jones gestured to him playfully. Jansen smiled and acknowledged Jones when passing first base.
“I appreciated that moment in the game,” Jansen said. “It was cool. … He always had that personality. He has an awesome personality. I wish I had stayed in contact better with him as the years go on, but maybe that makes it even more special that it’s been 14 years since I’ve seen him. Yesterday, it was a really cool thing. It’s a dream inside of a dream. Obviously, it is a dream to make the major leagues. But also to play on the same field as him, that’s unbelievable.”