After a glorious playing career, 5-time National League All-Star, 10-time Golden Glove winner and Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer Andruw Jones has joined the Kingdom of the Netherlands team as a bench coach.
BaseballEBM caught up with Jones at the European Championship earlier this week to talk about a career in transition. We started with a look back.
Growing up in Curacao Jones was accustomed to a lifestyle where the sun melts away all consciousness of time. The 150,000 inhabitants quickly warm to strangers and when bad weather arrives the city calls a rain delay. Home though it was, when it came to baseball, Jones had to move on. By age 13 he was outplaying all the adults on the island.
“I just made a decision that this was what I wanted to do,” he says about leaving Curaçao at age 16. “I put my goals, and the things I wanted to reach for, into action. With dedication, hard work and a little luck, things all fell into place at the time."
As a teen Jones left his hometown, on his own, to join the Braves farm system. Back then his native Caribbean island Curaçao wasn’t the baseball scouting hotspot it is today. Fellow island men were hard to come by in the United States. Though alone, Jones was well prepared.
His dad Henry, known for his speed, excelled on the local Royal Scorpions baseball team in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Andruw attended the games and chased fly balls during practices. The ball field however was not, instinctively, young Andruw’s first choice.
Excited to expose his son to the game he loved, Henry tried teaching Andruw to catch at the tender age of two. His wife warned her beloved not to push. Henry ignored Carmen only to have Andruw show more interest in iguana-hunting; that is, until the day one bit back. Shortly thereafter, Andruw was much more excited about the game.
Jones was not only excited but a quick study. Henry became a driving force behind Andruw’s career, often working out with his son and engaging him in discussions on baseball strategy. By age 13 Jones was already competing at the island's highest level, back on his father’s old team the Scorpions.
The work paid off. At 15-years old Jones caught the eye of a businessman and part-time scout for Atlanta during an international tournament. The Braves waited no longer than his 16th birthday to sign him. After the team picked up Andruw with a $46,000 signing bonus, the only culture shock he experienced was the size of the United States (US). “It is such a huge country, and all the time you are taking on the best opponents there are worldwide”, Jones recalls. With just three hours air time between them, the US is about 22,000 times bigger than Curaçao. Alone in a new land, his father’s influence shined through once more. Andruw’s father was a native English speaker. “We didn’t speak English at home, but I knew the language. There was no barrier”, remembers Jones.
With Andruw now in the role of father, he occasionally accompanies his own son, Druw Jr., to the ballpark. Sometimes Jr. shows up on his father’s instagram account too. Jones seems more reluctant than his father when it comes to his son’s experience with the game. “I don’t coach him. Really, he’s twelve years old and too young for that. At his age, he just needs to enjoy playing the game.” Jones points to the field where the Dutch squad is practicing and says, “Even these guys just need to enjoy the game. The only difference is they’re getting paid for it. It’s their job."
By 1996, Jones was 19-years old, baseball was his career and he was hitting homers in the World Series. No doubt, he was having fun. Advancing through the farm system so quickly meant missing his turn to play Olympic baseball. “I never had the opportunity to play in the Olympics because it’s in the middle of the MLB season. But I’d say that if you have the chance, try to get there.” The MLB contract restricts player in the bigs from participation in outside events mid-season.
Hall of Fame
After the 2015 Premiere 12 tournament, Jones ended his career. Earlier this year, the 2005 winner of the Hank Aaron Award, Silver Slugger Award and MLB Player of the Year Award was inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame but he doesn’t allow himself to think about Cooperstown. Jones says, “No really, I don’t think about it at all. It only happens to the best players and it’d be a huge honor of course. But thinking about it all the time, and then not getting inducted, would be disappointing. I’m just happy to have had a career like this, to have consistently delivered. If it happens, it happens.”
Jones hasn’t looked back since deciding his playing days were over. “No, not at all”, he says when asked if he has experienced a void since retirement. “The motivation to go on for another year just wasn’t there anymore, so I decided to quit. I have different responsibilities now. I have to show up a little earlier at practice. But in the end it’s still baseball”, says the Special Assistant to Baseball Operations for the Atlanta Braves.
He plans to combine both the Braves and the Netherlands jobs, “For as long as they want to keep me.” Last week it was he who had to file the paperwork in Atlanta before he could leave for Hoofddorp, arriving on the morning of the opening game, at the European championship.
Jones came to help the Netherlands national team win the European championship. “I just want to make the federation better,” he stated repeatedly throughout our conversation.
National head coach Steve Janssen has set the tone for the tournament saying, "If we don’t win the European championship, we failed.” Back in July, directly following the Dutch team’s domination of Haarlem Honkbal Week, Janssen said of the Championship, “In fact we can only lose the title, not win it.”
Jones agrees. Italy and the Netherlands have been splitting Europe’s tournament winnings over the last several years (Dutch 21, Italy 10). When asked to weigh in on the rivalry Jones said, “Pound-for-pound, we’re the best player-wise and talent-wise. They’re a good baseball team, and there’s still a rivalry, though so we can’t take them lightly. We just have to go out there and play good baseball."
February 2017 is the World Baseball Classic (WBC). Jones is doing everything he can to attract the best possible players for the Netherlands, "Anybody with a Dutch passport from the Netherlands, Curaçao and Aruba can play for the team, and we are fully utilizing all possibilities,” Jones says. This isn’t the first time he’s campaigned for the Kingdom.
In 2013, the ‘Curaçao Kid’ used his superstar-status on the Island to convince fellow Dutchmen to join the national squad for the Classic. Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar and Xander Bogaerts realized a dream when they suited up alongside their childhood idol. The way is clear for National League All Star Kenley Jansen, to join them in 2017 because the WBC is an MLB-sanctioned event.
Jones still has special status among Dutch squad team members. Just being there the bench coach sparks excitement in Dutch outfielder Randolph Oduber. “He’s an All-Star, Golden Glove. He’s been through it all. I ask him a lot of questions. It’s great to have him in the dugout.”
Oduber isn’t the only one. Jones can hardly point out a single topic, when asked what the majority of questions are about. “Really anything, man. Details of their game, life. Because basically, baseball is about life.”