My roommate’s birthday was last week and as a supplementary gift his mom gave him two suite tickets for Monday’s Indianapolis Indians game.
It’s 5:30 p.m. He walks into my room asking if I’d like to make a 7 p.m. first pitch. I figure it’s a Monday night, the tickets provide free food, beer and a couple innings at one of minor league baseball’s gems (Victory Field).
Sure, why not.
The Indians (Pittsburgh’s Triple-A team) are playing the Rochester Red Wings (Minnesota). We don’t really pay attention to the announcement of the starting lineups as we make a direct route for the free food and beer. My buddy waits until the last moment to tell me the tickets gifted to him by his mother, were transfered via the Indiana Teachers Union. For anyone who has sat in a shared suite before, there’s always the introductions and awkward conversations. We aren’t really ready for it, so instead of forced mingling we grab our beer and food and sit in the suite’s outside two rows, braving the 50-degree cloudy weather.
The second inning rolls around and the Red Wings’ No. 7 hitter takes the on-deck circle. The back of his jersey reads, “Jones.” He’s wearing No. 11. My mind begins to race. Could it be? There’s no way. I mean, what are the odds? Could it be my good, old friend Jacque Jones!?
Some of you might be unaware, but Mr. Jones and I go back a few years. In actuality, my interaction was more with a certain Mrs. Jones.
All my friends know the story. It’s right up there in party demand with my story about how I had a Leaky Louie while riding my bike in the fifth grade.
It was May 26, 2006. I had recently just finished an internship at the Birmingham News. While there, I wrote a brief article about how Dusty Baker had donated money to an urban high school to help pay for equipment. The piece got picked up by Baseball America and I was told anytime I was in Chicago and needed tickets not to hesitate to call. With my internship concluded and therefore any improper gift tidings, I called in three tickets for Memorial Day Weekend. Sure enough true to his word, the tickets were there, right behind home plate in the family section.
Three rows in front of us was a large, black woman wearing a No. 11 Jacque Jones jersey. Suffice it to say, it was probably the only Jones jersey in the joint. A younger black woman sat next to her with a young boy to her right. We assumed these were Jones’ wife and son. The 4-lb. rock on the woman’s finger tipped us off.
Up to this point in the season, Jones is drastically underperforming the free agent contract he signed in the offseason. Fans are beginning to get on him. It’s starting to wear on him. And it shows.
So the nice guy that I am, I cheer extra hard for Jones when he comes to the plate in the second inning trying to assure his family that not everyone hates Jacque. He grounds out. It happens. He comes up in the fourth and doubles home Todd Walker from second to tie the game at 1-1. Everyone cheers. Mom, wife and son are happy. All is right with the world.
The game progresses and its close. Despite allowing a run, Carlos Zambrano actually has a no-hitter through six innings. He walked four batters in the first to account for Atlanta’s tally. In fact, Zambrano is one out from carrying his no-hitter into the eighth inning. That is until Wilson Betemit hits a towering fly ball to right field. Right toward Jacque Jones. Jones immediately throws his hands in the air. He’s lost. The ball falls safely somewhere behind him. Betemit coasts into second with a double. No-hitter gone.
Now admittedly, I’ve had a few drinks by this point of the game, so I like most people yearning to witness a no-no firsthand share my displeasure when its dashed by incompetence. Jones’ mother and wife weren’t pleased either. But it had little to do with his drop in right field and more to with the words that dropped from my mouth. Jones’ mother and wife turn around and glare. It works. I quiet and sit back down. Marcus Giles then singles Betemit home, Zambrano is lifted and I stew.
In the next half inning, Jones comes up with two out and pre-punch Michael Barrett on second base. Jones doesn’t move the bat as he strikes out looking.
“What, did the sun get in your eyes,” I yell.
Some other, less flattering and therefore less memorable words followed.
Jones’ mother turned sharply and hollered something inaudibly three rows in front of me. I motioned to my ear in true ass-holish delight that I couldn’t hear her. Wrong move. She jumps from her seat and heads for the aisle.
“Oh shit,” runs through my head. Not too long before, Antonio Davis’ wife had gotten into an altercation at a Bulls game and I was really hoping to avoid the same embarrassment the other fan involved undoubtedly felt.
Lucky for me I’m sitting one seat in from the aisle, so Jones’ mom has a clear shot. And she let me have it.
“How dare you disrespect my baby in front of me! I don’t go to your workplace and tell you how to do your job! He makes more in a year than you’ll make in a lifetime,” she finishes.
“We pay him to catch the damn ball,” I reply.
Doubly lucky for me, I decided to wear a college intramural T-shirt with my name on the back, so most of the fans behind me start a nice chant in support of me, only intensifying Mrs. Jones’ wrath. At the brink of camera phone technology my friend alertly snaps a photo of the scene. It will later become our evidence for everyone will accuse me of making the story up or at least stretching the truth a bit, something I’m often guilty of. But not this time. This time we had the proof.
Well unfortunately, more official documentation of the incident was apparently required. A Wrigley Field usher quickly arrived on the scene – or at least as quickly as a 75-year old woman with oxygen flowing into her nostrils through a tube from a pouch fastened to her waist can.
She tries to put out the flames. Mrs. Jones seems relieved a figure of authority has arrived on scene. However, when neighboring fans retell a chain of events she doesn’t agree with, her anger creeps back up.
It’s at this point that one of my buddies decides to offer up the nugget of information that we are seated in Dusty Baker’s seats.
This part gets jotted down in the crypt-keeper’s notepad. Eventually, the next inning begins and the surrounding fans’ desire to watch baseball forces a swift and unresolved end to the ‘conversation’ between myself and Mrs. Jones.
Over the course of the next inning or two, a number of fans come up and ask me for the lurid details. I, treated as a conquering hero, gladly placate. The game ends after Ryan Dempster (the man I should have saved my fury for) allows three runs in the top of the ninth, surrendering the lead and the Cubs go out feebly in the bottom of the inning.
We leave Wrigley with no more interaction with the Joneses. We tell our friends about our trip to Wrigley. They call bullshit. We provide the photo evidence. Coupled with identical stories from three sources, people begin to believe. Others remain skeptical (I’ve built up a bit of a cache of distrust apparently).
Almost a week passes before I get a late night call from a Chicago-based buddy who I’ve retold the story to.
“You’re on ChicagoSports.com’s main site,” he tells me.
“The Jacque Jones shit. It’s in the Tribune.”
I rush to a computer. Below the main headline and photo: “Fan gets into fight with Jones’ mother.”
The article begins something like, “Jacque Jones has had a rough few months transitioning with the Chicago Cubs. He’s been heckled and even had a baseball hurled at him from angry right field bleacher fans. But the latest incident has gone even further.”
That’s right apparently, trying to harm an athlete by throwing an actual baseball at them is worse than me yelling at a player (and then subsequently his family) about how much he sucks.
I’m guessing the Trib’s writer was scrolling through Wrigley Field’s blotter looking to fill a notebook item and fill space. Well, I’m sure the note that Jones’ mother was involved piqued his interest as did the nugget that the supposed offender (i.e. me) was sitting in the team manager’s seats.
He interviewed Jones.
“She just did what any other mother would do in that situation,” he told the reporter.
Then they asked Baker about the people in his seats. He claimed ignorance. “Plenty of people ask for tickets as favors and I grant them. I don’t know everyone that I leave tickets for,” he said. That’s true. He didn’t know my two friends. Fortunately, I never gave the usher my real name. She only knew me by my nicknamed T-shirt. And since Dusty never knew me, my name avoids print.
But it gives credence to our story and the skeptics soon apologize.
The story soon makes its way onto sports radio. My friends call to keep me posted of the the hive I stirred. Then I get a call from my mom in Fort Lauderdale, who I had told the tale too, but left out a few details.
“Why am I reading about you in the Sun-Sentinel?”
Apparently, the wire service liked the article and it ran in newspapers nationwide. But with a awesomely favorable caveat. There perpetrator was an unidentifiable villain. The best kind.
…“Dude, is that Jacque Jones?” I ask my friend.
“No way man,” he answers.
“I mean a Jones wearing No. 11, it could be.”
I remind my buddy that Jones spent seven seasons with Rochester’s parent club, the Minnesota Twins, and maybe he latched on with the organization as a last hurrah.
“Doubtful,” he replies.
It’s true. I, myself, doubt it’s Jacque Jones. Jones is 35 and hasn’t played in the majors since an 42-game season split between Detroit and Florida in 2008.
Cincinnati signed him to a minor league contract in 2009, but he was cut after refusing a minor league assignment following a subpar spring. He spent last year with Newark of the Independent League. That’s right. My nemesis was forced to Newark like the rest of baseball’s pariahs. Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson ungracefully bowed out through Newark. Now washed bodies Armando Benitez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Scott Spiezio and Daryle Ward all call Newark home this season.
Why was Jones in the Independent League with the rest of the reality show castoffs? If you ask Jermaine Dye it’s probably because he’s black and not because he hit .147 in 116 at bats in his final Major League season.
But as Rochester’s No. 11 Jones takes his practice swings I wait impatiently for the announcer to reveal his true identity. I prepare for my dreams to crash.
Rochester’s No. 6 hitter strikes out. Batter up. I stare at the JumboTron waiting for the player profile to switch to the next hitter. It arrives. There’s no name. Just season statistics, “#11” and a gigantic logo. And not a Rochester Red Wings logo.
“Alright everybody get ready,” the PA starts, “for the Mike’s Express Car Wash Strikeout Player of the Game. If this batter strikes out, fans in Section 205 win free car washes.”
No hitter name. No identification. Therefore, no verification.
We give a half-ass look around for a roster sheet, but at the time are far more focused on free beer. After all, it was the only reason I said, “Yes.”
But after a few innings, the cold finally forces this Floridian turned Midwesterner back into the confines of the warm suite. Most of the teacher crowd has either dispersed by now or figured they’d gain little from interacting with us.
After a hamburger, hot dog, two chicken fingers, two Coors Lights, and three-plus innings of minor league baseball, we both agree our stay will be short. We give the game one more inning in hopes of another glimpse of Indians third baseman Pedro Alvarez, a stud prospect for Pittsburgh.
Jones is leading off the inning. I train my eyes on the JumboTron.
Mike’s Express Freaking Carwash!
Apparently this car wash giveaway goes all game. And who did the hometown Indians chose as the likely culprit? Jacque Jones. My nemesis. A safe pick if you ask me to show the 2,000 fans that showed up some slight goodwill with handout giveaways.
However, the television in the suite is turned to the game. The batter’s graphic will provide his first name.
Only there’s no graphic. No time. Jones, No. 11 swings at the first pitch, grounding out to second base.
Foiled once more. But as the batter jogs back to the dugout, the TV announcer, as if personally sent from the hip of God, utters the one word I’ve been waiting an hour for.
“Are you f–king kidding me!?” I exclaim. “It IS Jacque ‘F–king’ Jones!”
“Dude, chill out,” my friend says as he tries to hush me as the former principal of his middle school looks on.
“I’m sorry, but I seriously can’t believe Jacque Jones is playing against the Indianapolis Indians tonight and its the one game of the season I decide to go to.”
We shake our heads in amazement as I relive some of the Wrigley details.
“I hope he invested well,” my buddy says in response to Jones’ mother’s assertion that her son would make more in a season than I would in a lifetime. (At my current rate, she might be right, which means two things. 1. Unless I start either shitting gold or penning it, I’m in trouble, and 2. The Cubs vastly overpaid Jones giving him more than $5 million a season.)
As Rochester’s DH, Jones doesn’t have to worry about the sun getting in his eyes in right field, though the clouds might have helped anyways.
We leave after the fourth inning following Alvarez’s second at-bat. I leave happy. Jacque Jones has put a smile on my face. A trip down memory lane with an old friend.
Unfortunately, he sent the fans of Section 205 home displeased.
Sure the veteran went a crowd-pleasing 0-for-4 for the enemy. But there would be no free car washes. He failed to strike out.
If only he could have managed that feat four years ago.