Mobile baseball legend Cleon Jones remains a kid at heart at the stadium (Hicks)
MOBILE, Alabama – The sons, standing next to their fathers, looked around Hank Aaron Stadium in wonder. They weren’t sure what everything around them was or represented, but they were eager to find out. It is a continuing story of summer, a story that also involves fathers and daughters, just as it involves mothers, grandparents and grandchildren.
Baseball has that kind of gravitational and generational pull.
Tallest of all at The Hank on Thursday night could have been 68 Cleon Jones, one of Mobile’s baseball legends and member of the famous 1969 New York food World Series Championship team. Jones was on hand to greet fans, posing for photos and signing autographs. And he was happy to talk about the game that still keeps him young.
“I’m telling you, I’m lucky, because I played in New York, so I’m lucky to go back to New York and to Shea Stadium and now to Citi Field, so I’m in that atmosphere. stadium all the time, “Jones, sporting a Mets cap, said. “But staying at home here in Mobile and being able to go out to BayBear Stadium is even more refreshing because I have nothing to do. All I have to do is watch the football game. . and that’s wonderful. “
Watching baseball will never get old for Jones, although he said there were some differences between today’s game and the one he played.
“Real players play the game the way we played it,” he said. “In other words, you play little ball, you do all the little things. The things that I see now didn’t happen when I was playing – guys take the big swing all the time, no one is running or running. knows how to go about it.back on a flying ball, no one knows how to load a ground ball because they are now going to the big leagues to learn how to play.
“It’s still a wonderful ball game, and the kids who play it, I think they still love the game. Damn, when we played we would have played for nothing. That’s how good we got. liked the game. We were just lucky that the game we loved so much, we got paid to play it. When I was playing, everyone got that feeling of the game. So we could go out and play five or six hours a day. day and really learn to play. to learn to play before you get to the big leagues when I was playing. Now you learn to play when you get to the big leagues. “
Jones knew how to play. He was a key member of the 69 Mets team that included the late Tommie Agee, also from Mobile, and for a few games this season has also included Amos Otis, another Mobilian. The Mets were not expected to be a World Series contender, let alone a winner, that season. Jones said all credit goes to manager Gil Hodges who convinced his players they can win.
“He made this team,” Jones said. “We weren’t a great team, but we were a good team. He never let us fight. When we made mistakes we were called out and he made sure we didn’t make those mistakes again. His theory was if you didn’t fight, it’s hard for the other team to fight you, and that’s a fact.
“The Baltimore Orioles, on paper, were a much better ball club than we were in World Series 69, but we came out victorious because at that point we knew we were the best. baseball team. We didn’t start. that way, but Gil Hodges kept punching us and us and saying, “You’re better than you think.” I looked around. from the clubhouse and I said, “What the hell is he talking about? What planet is he on? “But around August we started to realize that we were a good team and we could win.”
Jones said he has remained close to many of that team. They also still share the same love and passion for the game, he added.
“I was fortunate enough to play for a team and we were a family,” he said. “We were a family long before the Pittsburgh Pirates became a family.”
On Thursday night, at a baseball stadium in her hometown, Cleon Jones found herself surrounded by family members. And it was good and familiar and in many ways perfect.
Tommy Hicks Chronicle appears on Mondays and Fridays in the press register. You can email Tommy at [email protected]