James Jones’ path to the becoming the starting center fielder for the Mariners started with a pair of bus rides on the B9 to the B67 from his home in Crown Heights to Telecommunications High School in Bay Ridge.
He put on his headphones and dreamed about becoming a major leaguer despite receiving only a partial scholarship to Long Island University. Eventually Jones received a full scholarship to the only school that even recruited him.
“I’m happy I went through it,” Jones said before facing the Yankees on Monday. “I definitely learned a lot of things and I’m just happy I went along with that.”
He rewarded the Blackbirds for showing faith in his talent. During his junior year, Jones batted .364 with 32 RBIs, 47 runs scored and a .618 slugging percentage.
Those numbers resulted in accolades such as First-Team All-Northeast Conference and the 30th spot on Baseball America’s Top 100 College Prospects list. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Mariners in 2009.
Jones was a pitcher in high school with velocity in the low 80s. His velocity increased in college but the results did not match as he had a 7-19 record with a 6.62 ERA in 38 appearances.
“Not good, I just threw hard,” Jones said. “I didn’t have a lot of other stuff to go with it.”
Still there was interest in him as a pitcher and both the Mets and Yankees brought him to their ballparks for bullpen sessions that Jones recalled did not go well.
However, it was the Mariners and scouting director Tom McNamara, a product of Dominican College in Rockland County, who were aware of Jones and the only team that showed real interest. The interest intensified after his 5-2 record and .296 batting average in 2008 while playing in Northwoods League, the Midwest equivalent of the Cape Cod League.
“He was on top of me [in college], and stayed in contact with me,” Jones said. “It was just cool how it bounced that way.”
Jones returned to New York Monday night as the leadoff hitter for the Mariners in a makeup game from April 30.
“It’s surreal,” Jones said of being in the majors. “It’s a great bunch of guys — a group that helped me transition well. They’ve just made it easy for me.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.