© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
02/22/09 4:41 PM EST
Jones looking to revive career
Vet vying for spot in Reds outfield after rediscovering love of game
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jacque Jones essentially decided to hit "ctrl-alt-delete" and reboot his career. For the first time as a player, Jones found himself without a game to go to or a team to play for last summer. By June 12, the outfielder was designated for assignment by the Marlins -- his second team of 2008. In a grand total of 42 games with Florida and the Tigers, he batted .142 with a .239 on-base percentage
The 33-year-old Jones, a .277 career hitter with a .326 OBP, decided not to try for a third team in 2008.
"I just went home. I was so screwed up," Jones said. "I just wanted to go home, chill out and regroup."
Jones never thought he was finished for good -- he was too young. But he did some things before jumping back in the fray and signing a Minor League contract with the Reds on Feb. 5.
First, Jones had eye surgery to improve his vision. He didn't, however, say that not seeing the ball well was an excuse for his production decline.
"It happens, although I don't know if it happens to that extreme," Jones said of last season's struggles. "I just took it as a learning experience, like I took everything else."
With his eyesight fixed, Jones went to Mexico to fix his swing. He spent a month playing winter ball with Obregon and batted .314 (37-for-118) with three homers, 15 RBIs and a .349 on-base percentage in 29 games.
Jones used Mexico to show Major League clubs he was still hungry to play. It also showed him that he could still find pleasure from playing.
"I went down there and started enjoying the game again," Jones said. "I had a lot of fun down there playing, a lot. I don't think my abilities were lost that fast -- in a year. Just having fun and getting in the right frame of mind, to me, is more than anything else. With a positive attitude, you do things differently. You see things differently.
"I wasn't under contract with anybody. No one told me to go anywhere. I knew what I needed to do to play the game. I've never needed anyone to send me in the right direction for things I needed to do. I know what it takes."
Jones, who broke into the Majors in 1999, was a key cog in the Twins' ascent to perennial contenders. His best all-around season for Minnesota was 2002, when he batted .300 with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs in the first of three straight division-title runs.
In 2006, Jones signed as a free agent with the Cubs and played two seasons on the North Side -- including one for Reds manager Dusty Baker. In his first season in Chicago, Jones batted .285 with 27 homers and 81 RBIs. In 2007, his average remained the same, but he dipped to five homers and 66 RBIs. The Cubs traded him to the Tigers after the season.
The stay in Detroit lasted only a month before Jones was designated for assignment for the first time in his career. The stint in Florida lasted about three weeks.
"You don't just vanish," Jones said. "I was coming off two years in a row where I was fine. I had a bad month. It doesn't just go away in six months during the offseason."
With the Reds this spring, Jones is part of a crowded contest for limited real estate -- left field -- where the club also has Chris Dickerson, Jerry Hairston Jr. and fellow non-roster invite Jonny Gomes competing.
"Jacque can play," Baker said. "He can play all three outfield positions. He can run. He hustles. He had a down year last year just like Gomes. But they have some track record of excellence. Just because you fall down for a while doesn't mean you're through, especially at the ages of those guys."
Jones, who will make $600,000 this season if he makes the club and has a clause that he can become a free agent if he doesn't, is experienced enough to know track record only takes him a limited distance.
Besides working with the outfielders, Jones has also spent extra time on a practice field working out at first base -- just in case. It never hurts to show versatility but he wasn't worried about breaking out among the crowd of outfielders.
"You distinguish yourself just by playing," Jones said. "Playing and doing the things I'm capable of doing, I should be fine. The worst thing that can happen to me has already happened. I got designated for assignment. I've had the worst. The only way I can go from there is up."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.