If Ryder Jones needs a walk-up song to fit his young baseball career, Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" might be fitting. With roots in the Northwest, Jones has lived in Oregon, Arizona, Oklahoma and now North Carolina. But his family isn't affiliated with the military. His father is Billy Jones, the first-year head coach at Appalachian State who spent the last 14 seasons as an assistant at Oregon State, Arizona State and Oklahoma State. With each change in jobs, the Jones family has packed up and moved to a new home, adjusting to the area and people on the fly.
"It was easier when I was little because I didn't get attached to people, but recently it's been a little bit harder," Ryder Jones said. "It's definitely an advantage because my dad is a coach. I'll always have a facility or field to go to, train, and be around players."
Jones, an infielder and righthander, had his most challenging adjustment this year when his father left Oklahoma State to become the head coach for the Mountaineers. After being in Stillwater, Okla., for eight years, the family packed up and moved over the summer, right before Jones was to begin his senior year at Stillwater High. While Ryder Jones was participating in USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars, Billy Jones and his wife, Tiffani, traveled to North Carolina to watch their son play and visit Boone, the small mountain town in which App State is located.
"I had never even been up in the mountains," Ryder said. "I had no clue where it was."
Like any other change, the move was difficult, but it's something the Jones family has grown accustomed to and Ryder Jones handles it well, despite leaving his friends and having to miss out on a couple key summer events on the showcase circuit.
"It's definitely not easy when you're in this business," Billy Jones said. "We were fortunate enough to be at Oklahoma State for eight years and it was the formidable years of (Ryder's) life. It's very tough to leave before his senior year. We're always about family and family stays together. My hat's off to both my boys being able to make that move.
Now at Boone's Watauga High, Jones received invitations to play in the East Coast Pro Showcase and Area Code Games, but was unable to participate because of the move to North Carolina. However, he latched on with one of the area's top travel teams, the Dirtbags, and was able to quickly make friends and get back on the field playing.
Having a Division I coach as a father obviously helped Ryder Jones' develop as a player, but Billy Jones made sure it was a decision he made on his own so they could properly separate baseball from family life.
"When he was in eighth or ninth grade, I told him 'When you're ready to do this for real, let me know,' " Billy Jones said. "Basically what that meant was, when you come out to the field, we separate dad and coach. It gave us that leeway of nothing was taken personally and at the same time I could coach him the way I would coach any player. And when we left, I was just dad. We were able to find that mix and that fine line. It's not easy, but more than not we were able to do that."
Of course, being a coach means Billy Jones isn't always home, so Ryder has taken it upon himself to continue working toward developing as a player and competing at the next level. He has keys to App State's facility and frequently goes to the field with his younger brother, Utah, to work out and take batting practice.
"We've always had a place to go, which I'm very fortunate for," Ryder said. Especially here, it's snowing, we have indoor cages and all that. It's been great."
For Billy Jones, having his son recruited by D-I programs brought on an important learning experience that helps him in his own recruiting process. While he had the advantage of knowing how things worked, he did his best to step back and let Ryder go through the process while also educating his wife to what goes on. At the same time, he developed a better understanding of what parents and players go through when facing the decision of where to commit.
"It is the biggest learning process I've ever been through as a recruiter," Billy Jones said. "When I recruit now, I tell parents the same story over and over how it really wakes you up. The decision of a kid picking a school is a huge decision. You get so wound up in recruiting and it's such a business-oriented type situation that you kind of forget that this is a kid and a family making one of the biggest decisions of their lives. I have a different understanding and feeling of it. It's a tough thing to describe, but I understand where the parents and kid are coming from. Not that I didn't before, but I'm way more aware of it now. That was the biggest learning lesson for me."
Ryder had several schools across the country on his list of choices, but settled on committing to Stanford though the thought of him playing for his dad couldn't be avoided.
"I was hoping!" Billy Jones said laughing. "The dad part of me wanted to sit back and let him go through the process. No matter what I thought, or how hard it was going to be. It was the best thing we ever did because I was able to allow him to develop these relationships with coaches and see where he thought he would fit. Let him enjoy the process rather than Ryder Jones is going to play for his dad. Ryder Jones was going to do what Ryder Jones was going to do and I made that very clear from the start."
Being a Stanford recruit, Jones can get quickly written off by scouts, as signees to the Cardinal are considered the most unsignable players as they rarely forego their commitment to sign a pro contract. But he is approaching the spring like any other top prospect and is excited about the chance of being drafted. He doesn't think he should be thought of any differently as a Stanford recruit because every player has their own mindset.
Wherever Jones winds up after his senior season, he'll be bringing a strong lefthanded bat to the table with clean actions, good footwork and a strong arm in the infield. He's a below-average runner so he'll likely shift from shortstop to third base at the next level, but his bat and defense profiles well there. There aren't any official plans in place for him to pitch at Stanford, but Jones expressed interest in closing, if needed. His fastball can creep into the low 90s and is complemented by a good slider.
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