Despite fans' criticism, Orioles' Adam Jones once again having All-Star year

Making fourth appearance in midsummer classic, including back-to-back starts, 28-year-old is playing his way into the discussion of the greatest outfielders in franchise history

July 14, 2014|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

There's a distinct dichotomy that surrounds Orioles center fielder Adam Jones in Baltimore.

He is the club's most consistent performer and surely one of its most ardent community ambassadors. His No. 10 jersey is the most prevalent on any given night in the stands at Camden Yards. On a team known for its grittiness, no one plays harder or more often.

On Monday night, Jones competed in the annual Home Run Derby, hitting three home runs in the second round but didn't advance to the final. On Tuesday night at Target Field in Minneapolis, Jones will join teammates Nelson Cruz and the injured Matt Wieters — all of whom were elected to start by the fans — in representing the Orioles at baseball's annual All-Star Game.

It's Jones' fourth All-Star appearance in seven full seasons in the major leagues and his second straight start. He's just the second outfielder in franchise history to be selected to three consecutive All-Star Games, joining only Hall of Famer Frank Robinson with that distinction.

And, yet, log on to Twitter, search an Orioles message board or sidle up to a bar in the Baltimore area and mention Jones. Then wait for the inevitable criticism: Jones swings out of his shoes; he can't lay off a slider in the dirt; he won't take a walk; he allows too many fly balls to go over his head; he keeps blowing that bubble gum while running for a catch.

Jones, who is hitting .301 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs while playing in all 94 of the American League East-leading Orioles' games this year, knows what's being said.

"I get to hear it, but at the same time they understand that I grind it out. I make them extremely happy when I swing the bat and am doing my job," Jones said about fans. "I don't go to anybody else's job and give criticism or anything like that.

"But I know this is a different situation because sports is obviously what people live vicariously through. If they had a bad day, sports can pick them up, and I get that. Hey, as long as they keep coming to the Yard and support the Orioles while I'm here, that's OK."

'My mental toughness is very strong'

Jones understands that some of the criticism rings true.

He's not a patient hitter and, consequently, he doesn't walk much — his career on-base percentage is a subpar .322 despite a strong .281 career average. He'll counter that his aggressive approach has him zeroing in on his third consecutive 30-homer season and his second straight year with 100 RBIs while ranking 12th in the AL in batting average in 2014.

Defensively, he's a three-time AL Gold Glove winner who has four errors and four outfield assists this season. When Jones misses a catch he believes that he should make, he immediately takes responsibility for it in the media. As for the bubble gum argument, well, his response to those can't be printed without blocking out several choice words.

But if the verbal barbs are warranted, Jones said he can shoulder it.

"If you can't handle constructive criticism then, trust me, you won't be in this game. This isn't a game of the weak-minded, and I'm one of the most mentally tough people — I wouldn't say ever — but my mental toughness is very strong," Jones said. "And so people will say whatever they want to say. That's fine with me. As long as you support the team, then please voice your opinion."

That's not to say, though, he'll listen and then change his ways.

"I'm glad you voice your opinion. Ain't gonna make no difference, but I'm glad you voiced your opinion," he said.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said that's not just a line from a sensitive athlete who's trying to put on a good public face while stewing inside. Adulation or criticism, Davis said Jones is indifferent.

"I don't think Adam really cares, to be honest with you," Davis said. "I think the fact that the fans voted him in [as an All-Star], he's appreciative of that. But, at the end of the day, I don't think Adam really cares what people think. I think that's pretty obvious with the way he carries himself. And it's a good attitude to have sometimes."

'He has really grown and matured'

So that's the first part of this story. That Adam Jones is arguably the most beloved current Orioles player and also the most often criticized, at least consistently among everyday players.

The other subplot here is that, despite his warts, Jones is developing into one of the best players in modern franchise history.

He doesn't turn 29 until Aug. 1 and is signed through 2018 — at which point he'll only be 33. This is his seventh season with the Orioles, and he is skyrocketing up the franchise's record books. While playing the 18th-most games in club history, Jones ranks 13th in RBIs, 10th in homers, 14th in runs scored and is tied for 13th in hits.

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