The boys hit it off — and Jones found himself being adopted again. For four years, he spent weekends during travel team season with the Ruiz family in well-heeled suburban Lakeside. He slept in Jett's room, helped with household chores and even wore Jett's clothes.
"Adam was a good kid who didn't have much," said Debbie Ruiz, Jett's mother. "Doing his laundry used to break my heart. He was appreciative of you buying him a soda."
The Ruiz family did that, and more. They bought Jones' gear — including a $300 Mizuno glove, which he still has — and helped him financially through high school. Come prom time, they paid for his tuxedo, corsage and senior picture.
Jones was grateful. In 2003, when the Seattle Mariners made him their No. 1 draft pick, he chose to sign his contract at the Ruiz's dining room table. Now, with his mega-salary and endorsements, he no longer borrows his friend's clothes. The shoe is on the other foot.
"Every year, before he goes to spring training, Adam lets me take a shopping spree in his closet," said Jett Ruiz, a mortgage broker. "Then he gives me the keys to his Mercedes and says, 'Go ahead and drive it while I'm gone.'
"If he'd just attach me to his credit card account, I'd be all set."
The payback goes on.
"I'm trying to think of a cool gift for Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz," Jones said. "Maybe a week's vacation somewhere."
Baseball as a way out
Yet family and friends say that Jones could try the patience of those around him.
"He was quite a prankster, as a kid," Wright said. "He'd put smelly things — I won't say what — under your nose, while you slept. And he'd roll his finger over a deodorant bar and then, when you weren't looking, smear it around the rim of your soda can."
Jones has "always been goofy, always tried to have fun," Quintin Berry said. "In high school, we'd fill a kid's backpack with dirt, or egg each others' cars. Adam didn't have a car, so we'd egg him, instead."
Another time, Jones and Jett Ruiz drove to Mission Beach, where they crept close to the boardwalk and hurled eggs at passersby.
"It wasn't my idea," Ruiz confessed.
Jones called it "all part of the growing process," but added, "It's a good thing I was under 18 when I did all of those things."
Most of the high-jinks were wholesome fun. The Berrys lived beside Webster Elementary where, even as teens, Jones and his friends played hide-and-seek at night. Later, they'd go to Quintin's room, douse the lights, strip to the waist and pummel each other with licorice whips. Exhausted, they'd collapse, but try not to doze off because the first to do so got tattooed with a Sharpie and had whipped cream stuck up his nose.
It was better than wearing gang colors.
"Our lives were not easy," Berry said. "Our neighborhood was a high gang-oriented place. We've seen seven of our friends buried in our lifetime because of violence. For a while, every off-season we'd come home to a funeral.
"But I had a couple of really close friends, high up in gangs, and they made sure nobody came to recruit me and Adam. They left us alone because they knew what we wanted to accomplish with our lives — and it was good for them to see somebody trying to make it."
Jones still goes back to his old neighborhood, still sees the same faces.
"That wasn't our niche," he said. "Now, when I see those guys, they say, 'It's awesome that you made it. You're living everybody's dream.'"
From the moment he found baseball, Jones embraced it.
"When he stayed with me, I'd find him in my room, watching reruns of old [San Diego] Padresgames on TV," said Limbrick, his cousin. "He'd seen them so many times, he knew what pitches were coming and what the announcer would say. Adam would sit on my bed, in his game mode, dissecting each play, pounding a ball into his glove, eating sunflower seeds and spitting out the shells, just like in the dugout."
Self-confidence? Jones had it to spare.
"I was walking the halls, between classes, when this skinny sophomore came over and said, 'I'm gonna be your No. 1 pitcher, coach — and your best player,'" said Matt Cleek, then baseball coach at Samuel Morse High. "Adam was cocky, and I liked that."
Jones' schoolboy feats, as pitcher and shortstop, are the stuff of legend. In a game at Chula Vista, he hit a tape-measure home run for Morse before a bevy of scouts.
"It was a monster shot to left field that hit the top of a three-story factory building," teammate Eric Billings said. "At Crawford High, Adam chose to bat left-handed one day and hit the first pitch for a homer. We're sitting on the bench, thinking, 'Really? Did that just happen?'"
As a senior, Jones hit .406, split six decisions and pitched to a 2.71 ERA, while leading Morse (20-10), a school with patchwork facilities, to the 2003 California state semifinals.
He played on a diamond where the backstop was squished up behind home plate, rattlesnakes slithered out of the tall grass, and a fence circled only one-third of the outfield.