By: Nick Roark
James Jones grew up on the streets of Brooklyn.
In fact, the Southern League All-Star grew up on the same block where Ebbets Field once stood, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the place where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
As an African-American kid in Brooklyn, Jones passed by the apartment complex that now sits where Ebbets Field used to be on a daily basis. Now, he finds himself roaming the outfield for the Jackson Generals, a feat made possible by Robinson’s debut at Ebbets Field over 66 years ago.
“Surreal is the word for it,” Jones said of growing up near the historical site. “I didn’t realize it until I started learning about the baseball history and learning that the Brooklyn Dodgers played there and I didn’t even know what to say.”
Jones said he researched the historical landmark after hearing about it from his coaches growing up.
“I ended up looking it up myself and just to see that there’s apartments there in that same location is different,” Jones said. “You wouldn’t think they would put apartments there on a landmark like that.”
The legendary ballpark was demolished in 1960 and the Ebbets Field apartment complex was built two short years later. The complex was renamed the Jackie Robinson Apartments in 1972, the year which Robinson passed away.
But perhaps the most surreal thing for Jones are the comparisons he received last month from one Hall-of-Famer in Lou Brock to another Hall-of-Famer in Robinson, the man who helped make Ebbets Field famous.
Brock, who visited Jackson on June 22nd as part of a health awareness campaign, saw the stirrup-sporting Jones speeding around the bases for an inside-the-park home run in the fourth inning, and stated on the Generals’ radio broadcast that the 24-year-old was reminiscent of Robinson in his prime.
“It’s an honor,” Jones said of Brock’s comments. “I laughed at it because a couple of the guys were laughing too that they heard that he said that but I just thank him that he compared me to that guy.”
Brock witnessed a career night for Jones, who launched his second home run of the game three innings later for his first career multi-home run game. But it was the inside-the-park round tripper that was most memorable for Jones.
“I wasn’t thinking about trying to hit a home run at all,” Jones said. “I was a little out in front of [the pitcher’s] changeup and I thought the center fielder was about to catch it cause he’s really fast but he missed it.”
“I thought Pank [manager Jim Pankovits] was going to hold me up at third but he was waving me in and I heard the crowd just get louder and louder as I was rounding the bases,” Jones said. “It’s just significant and I’m happy that I got in there.”
In his first season with Jackson, the right fielder has hit .265 with five home runs, 13 doubles, eight triples, and 40 RBI’s.
Jones hopes his numbers will one day carry him to the Major Leagues. If they do, it will be an achievement made possible by what Robinson did just down the street.
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is a Broadcast & Media Assistant for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.