07/15/09 2:06 AM ET
Jones lofts sacrifice fly to lift AL
O's outfielder relishes berth, plates go-ahead run
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
"I got the opportunity to drive in a game-winning run, and I was fortunate that I was able to do it," said Jones. "I didn't see too many pitches. I was going up there hacking, but they were just away, so I just didn't try to pull them and just went that way. I had to shorten up and just try to use my hands and not my body and put the ball in play, because I'm a hard guy to double up. So if I could put the ball in play, I knew I had a good chance of getting the run in."
Jones did exactly that, and the AL managed to avoid a tight situation in the bottom of the eighth. It was a bit of a surreal experience for Jones, who's in just his second full big league season. The youngster entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning and hit a hot liner off Milwaukee closer Trevor Hoffman in his first at-bat, and he said after the game that his All-Star involvement was an incredible experience he'll never forget.
"I'm still speechless about the whole entire process," said Jones, who served as Baltimore's lone representative to the All-Star Game. "I'll just soak it all in tonight and see how I feel in the morning. I'm probably going to think about it tomorrow. I just looked at my phone and I've got like 40 text messages, so hopefully all the people that texted me think it's pretty cool. So I'm just relishing the moment right now."
And the Orioles, meanwhile, are relishing his breakout season. Several people connected to Baltimore's front office have said they believe that Jones is the most improved player in baseball, an opinion bolstered by his emerging batting stroke and a career-high 12 homers before the break. Jones is emblematic of the five-player haul the Orioles received for Erik Bedard, a trade many credit for helping to reboot the entire franchise.
Ichiro Suzuki, Jones' former Seattle teammate and a fellow AL All-Star, said he's proud of the way the highly touted outfielder has developed.
"Well, we're not going to play Baltimore for the rest of the season," said Ichiro through interpreter Ken Barron. "So no matter how well he performs for the rest of the season, it doesn't matter to us. So I'm happy for him."
Still, despite his rapidly improving reputation, Jones seemed somewhat in awe of the company he kept. The fleet-footed power hitter replaced Ichiro in right field and batted in Jason Bay's slot of the lineup, raving about the All-Star talent arrayed around him.
"This is a star-studded event, man," said Jones. "These are the ballers of baseball. They're superstars for a reason, and hopefully one day I can be considered in that category."
Jones' fellow outfielders made their own huge impact, with Curtis Granderson hitting a key triple in the eighth and All-Star Game MVP Carl Crawford saving a home run with an exciting catch.
When told that his All-Star berth indicates he's already in elite company, Jones disagreed. It's one thing to do it once, he said, and quite another to establish a consistent level of star-level performance like some of his peers.
"For the one day, I can be considered that, but I've done it for a couple months," he said of his All-Star pedigree. "They've done it for years. So once I can do it like that, then you can consider me in that category."
And if the All-Star experience wasn't enough, Jones also said that he'll never forget rubbing shoulders with President Barack Obama, who met some of the players and threw out the game's ceremonial first pitch. For Jones, it's just another facet of an unforgettable experience. "It's a tremendous honor to even be in the President's presence," Jones said. "We had a chance to meet Vice President [Joe] Biden on Opening Day, so now I'll get to meet the whole package. It's pretty special. Not many people get to meet the President."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.