Summer arrived about 1:30 Monday afternoon, straggling out of the bright April sunshine with its luggage and all its happy noise in tow. Mammoth wheeled suitcases and dark-blue bags bearing a white interlocking SD formed battlements in front of lockers. TV cameras hovered. Pizza was inhaled.
Optimism, too, of course.
Nowhere does it live larger than on moving day in baseball, when summer is fresh from the wrapper and everything is possibility and undimmed expectation. No games have been rained out yet. No double-play balls have been booted. Everyone in the rotation is Koufax or Clemens unformed.
And this guy here, around the corner from where the kids balance Styrofoam plates on their knees amid the unpacked bags?
Hes starting fresh, too.
His name is Jacque Jones, and you know him because he played for the Cubs a few years back and put up some nice numbers for the Twins for nine seasons, finishing a 10-year major-league career with 165 home runs, 630 RBI and a .277 average. Now hes a first-year hitting instructor in the San Diego Padres system, starting out again just like all these young TinCaps.
No wonder hes as eager to get going as anyone else in the joint this day.
Oh, yeah, I think Im equally as excited as the players are, Jones said Monday. Excited for a new season, excited for a new career as far as teaching now instead of playing.
Its not like he comes to the teaching part a stranger. As with a lot of major-leaguers whove put in some years, he spent as much time in his waning days as a player passing on accumulated knowledge as he did putting that knowledge to use. And he had some accumulated knowledge.
I think as a player you learn as you go along, says Jones, 37. You gain experience, you talk amongst each other, you get tips from other hitters, you give tips to other hitters. You talk to pitchers about hitting, and pitchers talk to hitters about hitting, what goes on in your mind. So I think the last few years of my career I was a teacher as well as a player.
In that, he was only following the example of his own teachers. And he had a few.
Coming up in the Twins system in the mid-1990s, he learned from Tony Oliva, from Rod Carew, from Kent Hrbek and the late Kirby Puckett. It not only helped him as a player, it got him to thinking about what would come next for him.
I always wanted to remain a part of the game, and I thought teaching would be cool when I got to a certain point where I wasnt playing anymore, Jones says. Guys that taught me were former players, and so I figured I would kind of keep that going. And so here I am.
It is almost, but not quite, a full-circle deal for him. When the Twins signed him in 1996, the Wizards were Minnesotas low-A farm team. So everyone figured Jones had been here before when he was assigned to the TinCaps.
They jumped me a level, he says. Instead of coming here as a player, I went to Fort Myers. Everybodys assuming that I played here, and Im saying, I never played there, I dont know what its like, I dont know anything about the city of Fort Wayne.
And now that he does?
These kids here, theyre spoiled, he says. They dont know some of the places they could have started playing at. Here, theyve got a beautiful stadium, a beautiful facility. To have a place like this is good for the guys.
So bring on the summer.