'He just kept throwing strikes': High school coaches, teammates remember Doug Jones
Steve Smith, now the Chief of Police for Lebanon Community School Corporation, remembers the first pitch he saw Doug Jones throw.
It was 1973. Jones was facing Thorntown in his first game with the Tigers after moving to Indiana with his parents.
"He threw his first pitch about halfway up the backstop," Smith said. "It was intentional. Then he proceeded to pitch a very good game from there on out."
Jones, a 1975 Lebanon graduate who attended Butler University for one year, went on to have a 16-year Major League Baseball career and was a six-time All-Star. He died Monday at the age of 64 due to COVID-19 complications.
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The same thing that helped Jones craft a lengthy professional career was what propelled him in high school.
"He could throw strikes whenever he wanted one, and he could pitch as much as he wanted to. He just kept throwing strikes," said Keith Campbell, Jones' cousin and high school coach. "That's why he could get ahead of people."
Jones' strength was his control, not his speed. Dave Garlick, who was Jones' teammate at Butler in 1976, interviewed the pitcher for an Indianapolis Star column in 1988.
“I always felt I could get people out. I always thought I could play in the big leagues. The hardest thing is getting that chance. But teams always wanted people who could throw strikes," Jones told Garlick. "That’s what I do, throw strikes. When things really go right, I can throw in the 90s. But that’s not how I get them out.”
Lebanon won sectional titles during his junior and senior seasons.
"Every time he went out there, he pitched well enough to win," Campbell said. "He obviously didn't win every game. But that's not necessarily because of him. When you don't score enough runs, you don't win."
While he wasn't overpowering, Jones had a knack for figuring out how to be successful.
"After he graduated from high school, he played on a team in Kokomo," Campbell said. "I was a coach on the team. We had a tournament in St. Louis. He didn't do very well in the first couple innings. He gave up five or six runs. I decided I was going to take him out. Doug said, ‘No, I don't want to come out. I can do this.’ He kept going and didn't give up any more runs. Our team came back and won after we were buried. He never gave up. He pitched the whole way."
Jones' tenure at Butler lasted just one season. He eventually ended up at Central Arizona College before being drafted by Milwaukee in 1978.
"I think I was a little young for my age at Butler," Jones said.
"He found the classroom about as often as I got into games," Garlick wrote, "which wasn't very often."
Jones spent time with seven different organizations during his career, making four All-Star appearances in five years from 1988-1992.
"He wasn't arrogant, but he was confident. He was family oriented and very strong with his faith. He liked to have a good time and have fun. What I remember the most was him as a great person. The kind of person you'd like to be like," Smith said. "It was never really about the opponent. It was about him getting better. That's the way he was as a person as well."
Lebanon followed Jones' career closely. His parents, Rex and Hazel, still live there.
"It was exciting. ‘Hey, I played with that guy.’ I was proud to say I played baseball with him," Smith said. "He probably would have done a lot better in high school had he had a better supporting cast around him, but we had a lot of pride. It felt good to have that connection from little Lebanon to someone that made it in the pros."
From the time Jones graduated from Lebanon until the time he threw his final major league pitch 25 years later, the community kept watching.
"Everybody kept track of him in town," Campbell said. "Everybody was amazed at how well he did. That was just the kind of player he was. He didn't know how to lose. He just kept figuring out ways to win."
But no matter how much success he had, whenever Smith and Jones would reconnect, Jones "didn't change a bit."
"Whether he was the Lebanon High School pitcher or he was pitching for the Indians or the Astros or whoever, he was still the same Doug Jones," Smith said.