Andruw Jones’ 3-Homer Night: My Most Memorable Minor League Games
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As we all wait for the return of baseball, we want to remember some of what has made us fall in love with baseball. Baseball America staffers are writing about the most memorable games they have experienced in person. We want to hear about your most memorable games as well. Email your memories to email@example.com.
Oh I wish I remembered more.
For years, I sat next door to John Manuel at the Baseball America offices. Time after time he’d rattle off detail after detail from a game that happened 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. It never ceased to amaze me.
I don’t have that gift. I remember feelings and snippets. So when I think back to the most memorable game I’ve seen in person in the minors, what I remember more than anything is the feeling.
It was joy.
As Andruw Jones’ third home run of the game landed, I remember a feeling of euphoria. It started to manifest itself as a grin. I squashed it because I had been taught that there’s no cheering in the press box—even if that press box is a little box holding just four people suspended from underneath the roof of a 60-year-old stadium. But internally, I was jumping up and down.
I was seeing the kind of prospect you dream of seeing. The kind you could go years without ever coming across. I may have been young, but I was a Baseball America reader, so this is why I wanted to be at the ballpark.
This was my first year of covering minor league baseball. I was fresh out of the University of Georgia and had taken a job covering high school sports for the Macon Telegraph newspaper. In addition to the high school sports beat, the prep writer was responsible for covering the local minor league team too.
I had always loved baseball. One of the biggest reasons you enjoy going to the park is because you hope to see something special, something unique. You want to see that moment you’ve never seen before and will be telling friends and family about for years to come. It’s what made covering 12 games in 12 days fun.
Coming into the season, I was pretty hopeful that I would get to cover an exciting team. But I wasn’t sure who would provide the excitement. I had written my previews that week relying heavily on my copy of Baseball America. Jones ranked No. 2 on the Braves Top 10 Prospect list (behind Chipper Jones) and 21st on the Top 100 Prospects, a pretty amazing ranking for a player who hadn’t reached full season ball. But I wasn’t even sure he was going to be the best player on the team. Shortstop Glenn Williams, another 17-year-old, ranked fourth for the Braves and 64th on the Top 100 after signing for big money out of Australia. Catcher Fernando Lunar and lefthander Damian Moss (two more Top 10 Prospects) were also on the Macon roster. Ron Wright, Wes Helms, George Lombard, Gus Kennedy and Micah Bowie gave the team plenty of other interesting prospects as well. At the time, 20-year-old righthander Kevin Millwood just seemed like another arm on the team—he’d end up winning 169 games in the majors.
It took two days for Jones to prove he was in a different class than anyone else. He homered twice in the second game of the year. The second homer of that game is one of the few I remember specifically from that season. It was a high, long majestic homer down the left field line. The lights at Luther Williams Field weren’t all that great, but I remember how it landed on (or right by) the road that crossed behind the stadium. When he crossed home plate, Jones had already shown the league that he was a player to fear.
I probably saw 15 or so of the 28 home runs Jones hit that year—we didn’t cover the team on the road. I don’t have unique memories of many of them. I remember the catches in center field more clearly. I remember him stealing bases at will.
So I’m sad to say that I can’t remember any of the exact details of the three home runs he hit against Hickory in late April. I’m frustrated by so little I can bring back from that game. Early in the season, I faithfully drew the trajectory of each home run. His first of the season was a screaming line drive to right. His second was a long fly to left. His fourth was a line drive shot over the left center field wall.
But for some reason for the most memorable game I would ever see, I failed to do the same. My scorebook doesn’t even include the exact date of the game, although my memory puts it at happening just before he turned 18 on April 23. I did note that the official attendance was 2,221.
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The first two batters in the bottom of the first reached. Jones cleared them with a three-run home run. The next time up in the third, the first two batters again reached and he did it again. Hickory walked him in the fifth and he stole second. He then hit a two-run home run in the seventh. As that ball landed, I remember thinking this may be the best prospect I’d ever see in person.
Jones walked in his final plate appearance that day. He was 3-for-3 with four runs scored, eight RBIs and 12 total bases. It capped off an eight-game stretch at home (the games I saw) where he hit .533/.600/1.367 with seven home runs, four steals and 15 runs scored. He homered in the first inning of the next game as well.
In reality, Jones wasn’t even the best teenage prospect I’d see in the Sally League that year. As good as his career was, Vladimir Guerrero (playing for the Albany Polecats) was better.
But no prospect has ever provided for me the wonder that came from watching Jones that April. Seeing that reinforced how much I loved minor league baseball. I think I can say that I’m at Baseball America in part because of that game.
And for that, I say, thank you Andruw.