The Baltimore Orioles completed a 13-3 drubbing of the Detroit Tigers yesterday to take 2 out of 3 from the current AL-Central leaders. They did it basically the same way they’ve done it all year: with a homerun heavy offense and clutch pitching out of the bullpen, along with breathtaking defense across the board. Sure, I could write about Chris Davis and his 26 bombs, or Jim Johnson righting the ship at just the right time, or Manny Machado’s outstanding poise and baseball I.Q. for someone who cannot even legally buy a beer yet. But instead, I want to talk about a guy who has, somehow, turned into an unsung hero for this year’s Orioles team: Adam Jones.
The early years
The center fielder came to Baltimore in a trade that saw the Orioles deal SP Eric Bedard to Seattle for Jones, SP Chris Tillman, RP George Sherrill, and two other minor league pitchers before the 2008 season. At the time, Bedard was considered to be a top-of-the-rotation lefty, which is why the Mariners were willing to part with their most prized possession in Jones. Of course, this deal is now considered by most to be one of the biggest steals in recent history. From the jump, Jones made an impact with the Birds, hitting .270 in his first full major league season with 9 HRs and 57 RBI along with 7 triples and 10 steals, despite the team around him being absolutely dreadful. They finished in last place in the AL East, which would unfortunately become a trend for the O’s over the next few years. However, Jones, along with fellow outfielder Nick Markakis, would continue to improve his personal performance every year despite the club’s struggles. He saw his biggest improvement come in 2011, Buck Showalter’s first full year in Baltimore, when Jones hit .280 with 25 homeruns and 83 RBI. He also added 16 outfield assists, proving that he could get it done with the glove as well as the bat. I was personally worried that Jones, because of Baltimore’s lack of success, might choose to leave the team when his contract was up to pursue a chance at the playoffs. After putting up with so many losing seasons early in his career, Jones had to have been frustrated. Thankfully for both Jones and Orioles fans alike, Showalter’s presence in the clubhouse slowly but surely turned the team’s fortunes around.
In 2012, the team finally found sustained victory, as they finished the season 93-69 and claimed a Wild Card spot, beating the Texas Rangers in the first ever Wild Card round of the playoffs. Jones was once again a big part of it, hitting a cool .287 with 32 jacks and 82 RBI. He also added a Gold Glove to his trophy case, another testament to his consistently great defensive effort. Anyone who can blow a perfect bubble while chasing down a sinking liner and making a diving catch (with ease) deserves all the accolades he gets. The team was so pleased with Jones’ all-around play that they gave him a 6 year, $85.5 million extension (that could potentially reach $91.5 million with incentives), the largest contract in Orioles’ history. The extension news certainly squashed any fears Oriole fans had about Jones leaving. Not that he’d want to anyway, with the complete 180 the team had done under Showalter’s reign.
2013 and beyond
This season, Jones and the boys are back at it again, at present 42-31 and even more dangerous than last year. While Davis has gotten most of the media attention (and deservedly so), Jones continues to be a model of consistency on the baseball field and a leader in the clubhouse. He can frequently be seen giving props to his teammates on Twitter (@SimplyAJ10) and keeping the club loose during tough stretches with some delicious shaving cream pies to the face. Without his guidance and infectious personality, the team may not be playing at the level it is right now. Jones’ own bat has been hot as well, hitting .301 with 14 bombs and 51 RBI thus far, with a long ways to go. He is the leading All Star vote-getter for AL outfielders as of today, and for good reason. Baltimore fans know exactly how much the 27 year old means to the organization and the city, as Camden Yards is averaging it’s highest attendance since 2005 thanks to fan favorites like Jones and Markakis staying home to help turn things around.
While there is lots of baseball yet to be played, the Orioles seem like a good candidate to make the playoffs for a second straight year. There’s no reason they can’t advance farther than they did last year, either, as long as they remember to “Stay hungry” and aren’t content to just get to October. With #10 leading the way, O’s fans have nothing to worry about. The team is in extremely talented, Gold Glove hands, and it’ll stay that way for a long, long time.