Daily 49er

A calling greater than the game

AJ Jones turned down surgery and sacrificed his promising baseball career to follow a family tradition of military service.

Andrew+Jones+will+act+as+an+undergraduate+assistant+coach+instead+of+pitching+in+his+senior+season+after+opting+against+surgery+in+favor+of+a+military+career.
Andrew Jones will act as an undergraduate assistant coach instead of pitching in his senior season after opting against surgery in favor of a military career.

Andrew Jones will act as an undergraduate assistant coach instead of pitching in his senior season after opting against surgery in favor of a military career.

Jose De Castro | LBSU Athletics

Jose De Castro | LBSU Athletics

Andrew Jones will act as an undergraduate assistant coach instead of pitching in his senior season after opting against surgery in favor of a military career.

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Something was off as junior right-handed pitcher Andrew “AJ” Jones paced around the mound during his start against UCLA on April 25 last season. He took more time than usual between pitches and flashed uneasy looks into the Long Beach State dugout.

After only 20 pitches, head coach Troy Buckley made a morose walk to the center of the diamond and removed Jones from what would be his last outing of the 2017 season.

“[My shoulder] just didn’t feel right,” Jones said.

An injury to his rotator cuff hindered the Dirtbags’ talented pitcher dating to his playing days at the College of Southern Nevada before he was offered a scholarship by LBSU. This time, it would force Jones to undergo surgery if he ever wanted to take the mound again. Many Division I college baseball players wouldn’t think twice about going under the knife with the prospect of playing professionally one day. But for Jones, a greater sense of duty influenced his decision to decline the operation and medically retire.

“I didn’t want there to be any risk of getting denied to join the military,” Jones said. “I picked that over my career in baseball.”

The injury limited Jones to only six starts for the Dirtbags in 2017 as he posted a 1-2 record with a 2.36 ERA over 26.2 innings. His best outing came against Texas Christian University on March 14, then ranked No. 3 in the country, when he held the Horned Frogs to just one hit over four innings with four strikeouts.

Jones, 21, now dreams to become an Air Force pararescue (PJ) specialist after graduating from Long Beach this spring and he hopes to serve as an officer someday. PJs “rescue and recover downed aircrews from hostile or otherwise unreachable areas,” according to the Air Force careers website. Like other special forces operations units such as the Navy SEALs, near perfect physical health is required for admittance into training and any blip on a medical record can result in rejection.

“There are bigger things down the road that can change my life and I can’t risk that,” Jones said.

During his childhood in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, stories from three generations of military service in the Jones family served as a major influence on his career aspirations. His grandfather, Vernon Jones, was a corpsman on a submarine in World War II and later a member of the Air Force during the Korean War. Vernon began his service time after playing college baseball at East Carolina University, a path identical to that of Andrew’s.

“You grow up around it and hear stories and it made me fall in love with the idea of serving my country and following that path,” Andrew said.

Todd Jones, Andrew’s father, joined the Coast Guard with his brother Scott, giving Andrew two more important figures to look up to. Despite the great tradition that defines the Jones family, Andrew was never pressured to follow in their footsteps.

“My goal as his father was to clear the path for him to decide and to make sure he could be successful in doing whatever he wanted to,” Todd Jones said. “He knows that he’s doing what his dream is and he has always followed his dream.”

Andrew made his decision shortly after the 2017 season ended to set himself up as the next Jones to enlist in the military.

“My family gave me the opportunity to have what they didn’t have in sports and didn’t force me in any direction,” Andrew Jones said. “I took my own path and it lead me right back to where my heart was, because when it’s in your blood, you know what you have to do.”

Jones’ choice set the Dirtbags back one great pitcher in their arsenal for the 2018 season. But the program realized they could not lose the personality and staunch competitiveness that he brings with him everyday.

“We’re still honoring his scholarship not only for what he did for us last year but because we want him on our team this year as an [undergraduate assistant],” Buckley said. “We are a better team with him on the field and in the dugout because of his positive energy. He’s a part of who we are and what we are.”

The gesture by the Dirtbags and the LBSU athletic department goes a long way for Jones who will now have the chance to graduate with a degree in consumer affairs. That accomplishment will give him an advantage when it comes to being promoted to an officer later in his military career.

This season, Jones will assist pitching coach Dan Ricabal in handling the Dirtbags’ pitching staff in pursuit of a repeat Big West Conference championship. He plans to draw on his experience pitching against the nations top teams.

Unlike some former players who were forced to step away from baseball because of injury, Jones feels no anger toward the game that took him to two different states and awarded him a college education.

“It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” Jones said. “Aside from the influence my family has had on me, I think baseball has been the biggest thing to prepare me for a career in the military.”

After Jones graduates in May and the Dirtbags look to make another run at the postseason, he will take a major leap into the next time period of his life. And though he may see former teammates fulfill their dreams of playing professional baseball, he’ll be content with the humbling honor of serving in the United States armed forces.

“Duty is doing something greater than yourself,” Jones said. “I always ask myself, ‘What am I going to do to leave a mark here?’ Not everyone has to join the military to do that but that’s just where my passion is.”

1 Comment

One Response to “A calling greater than the game”

  1. Kasey Ramirez on January 21st, 2018 6:26 pm

    So nice to hear of a young person with so much respect for our armed forces. This young man understands that he has been able to experience baseball at a college level in part because of the sacrifices our military men and women make everyday.

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