Jones’ journey reaches Majors, begins with bang

26 minutes ago

KANSAS CITY — When Nolan Jones was three years old, he had his whole career path mapped out. And he was determined to make it a reality.

“It wasn’t just a kid saying, ‘I want to be a Major League Baseball player,'” his mother, Regina said. “He said, ‘I’m going to play in the Major Leagues, mom.'”

On Friday night, Jones’ plan came to fruition, as he went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the Guardians’ 4-3 walk-off loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The defeat extended Cleveland’s losing streak to five games, but it gave everyone a glimpse of yet another exciting prospect — one who everyone has been waiting to witness.

The journey
As a toddler, baseball was all that was on Jones’ mind.

“He didn’t want any breakfast,” Regina said. “He’d say, ‘Mom, will you have a catch with me?'”

Jones played three different sports and was talented in all of them. But in ninth grade, he sustained a severe head injury while playing ice hockey and was told he could never play the sport again. However, his doctors cleared him to go back to baseball.

Jones’ plan could still be saved, but he’d have plenty more hurdles to overcome before reaching the big leagues. Although he’s been on everyone’s radar since the moment he was drafted out of Holy Ghost Prep in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft, his projected arrival to the Majors was delayed due to more ailments.

From 2019 until this past June, Jones has endured thumb surgery, a COVID-19-canceled Minor League season, ankle surgery and back problems, as he dropped from the team’s top prospect to No. 7.

“I mean, there’s times when you start doubting yourself and that it’s not going to happen and that your dream might not come true,” Jones said, of his injuries. “When I was in Arizona rehabbing, there was a lot of days when it was like, ‘I’m going to need back surgery, I’m not going to feel better and all of this.’

“[James Karinchak] told me, ‘Hey, every day, push yourself, be the best you can every day, train yourself to believe you’re the best.’ … I really started getting after it and I’m here.”

The callup
A demotion? Jones was so confused.

He’s been making the transition from third base to the outfield over the last few years. So, Jones’ Triple-A manager, Andy Tracy, called Jones into his office on Thursday afternoon to give him the news: He was being sent down to Double-A Akron to get more work in the outfield.

“I wasn’t very happy,” Jones said, “but it was what I needed to do, I guess.”

Something kept telling Jones that plan didn’t make sense. And he was right. Tracy was pulling a prank on Jones to allow the real news to feel even sweeter: Jones was going to the big leagues.

“Obviously my body started shaking,” Jones said. “It was surreal.”

Jones immediately grabbed his phone and called each person in his family individually. He caught both of his parents while they were driving, and they were able to answer his FaceTime when they stopped at red lights. His dad, Tom, was driving home from work, and Regina was driving back from the grocery store. No one could hold back tears.

The family only had a moment to celebrate before the reality set in. How were they going to get from Pennsylvania to Kansas City in time for Friday’s game? After talking with the Guardians to get a flight booked, they realized they had 90 minutes to get packed and leave. Jones’ parents, three siblings, girlfriend, grandmother, aunt and two friends rushed to the airport — and beat him to Kansas City.

“I got into the hotel and they were all waiting for me in the lobby,” Jones said. “It was everything I could have ever dreamed about.”

The debut
Jones didn’t sleep on Thursday night, and the smile couldn’t be wiped off his face all day on Friday as he explored Kauffman Stadium. He claimed he couldn’t feel his legs, but he looked right at home when he stepped into the batter’s box in the second inning, plating a run on a double down the right-field line.

“It was cool to get the first one under my belt,” Jones said.

Jones battled the sun on a fly ball in the first inning in right field and had an errant throw later in the game, but he continued to provide with his bat, logging another single in the seventh before getting replaced by pinch-runner Oscar Mercado.

That’s when Jones tried to let the moment soak in. The pressure and excitement of the day was in the rearview mirror as he headed back to the dugout to watch the last few innings of the contest.

After the Guardians suffered their fifth straight loss, Jones lingered on the field to meet up with his family, all of whom were beaming with pride. But as much as he tried to realize the mission he set for himself at three years old was successfully completed, it still hasn’t set in.

“My mom just hugged me and was like, ‘You’re a big leaguer,'” Jones said. “And I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ It’s not even real.”