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Sports Talk: Jones feels dandy at Vandy, with his injuries in the past

The pulverized baseball landed with a thud and the blast came with a smile and a sigh from Spencer Jones.

Jones, Vanderbilt’s can’t-miss prospect from La Costa Canyon High, smacked Ole Miss with a two-run homer on May 15. It went over 400 feet and had his father’s phone in the stands chirping with hometown messages from well more than 1,000 miles away.

“It was so awesome to be in the stadium when that happened,” said Chris Jones, who was among the 13,000 fans at Swayze Field in Oxford, Mississippi.

Jones’ blast in the showdown between these ranked teams couldn’t prevent the Rebels from taking the three-game series. But what Jones took from his long fly was that it’ll be a short time before he’s 100%.

Vanderbilt’s Spencer Jones. Courtesy photo

“It’s comfortable knowing that despite some injuries, I’m not too far behind,” Jones said.

The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Jones was always head-and-shoulders above others and that was long before reaching LCC. The speedy and elegant Jones’ potential was such as a pitcher and a hitter that his success had long been predicted.

His expressway to the majors was either going to be as a freshly minted millionaire via a first-round pick in the MLB draft or after a stint at a college known for its baseball. The personable Jones didn’t have it made in the shade, but he knew where the shadow was if needing a respite.

But baseball, and life, is known for making folks handle the dark times and they found Jones in successive seasons.

Jones’ senior year at LCC, where he was among the most highly decorated prep players in the nation, was shattered when his left elbow balked on a pitch in 2019.

A broken elbow snapped teams’ interest in using their precious draft currency on Jones. The Los Angeles Angels bit, but not until the 31st round.

His fallback plan was accepting a scholarship to Vandy, and that was dandy with the academic-minded Jones.

Soon after completing the rehabilitation of his prized elbow’s structure, one of its ligaments popped. That led to Tommy Jones surgery for Jones in 2020, wiping out yet another season that was abbreviated because of the pandemic.

Instead of deciphering ways to outsmart pitchers and attack hitters, Jones’ days were spent in medical facilities and not on the diamond.

So, when the polite Jones raised his left arm when spotting a former Encinitas Little League coach at Ole Miss, it wasn’t for a bro-hug. Instead, Jones revealed the impressive scar on the inside of his elbow, after it was repaired once again.

For a spell, instead of Jones having the world by the tail, it seemed to be the other way around.

“It was a devastating blow and at first it was pretty frustrating,” Jones said of his second injury. “I was thinking, ‘Why me?’  because I was starting to pitch again, play in the outfield and show everyone what I could do.”

Instead, the competitive battles players thrive on became Jones vs. Jones. The focus was on getting himself better, but only after Jones conducted a clubhouse meeting of one.

“It was daunting having to have another year of recovery and not knowing how you would look a year later,” Jones admitted. “To know that you have 10-12 months, which is a lot of time, to be in the training room doing stuff by yourself … all the tasks that are not real glamorous, but you have to tell yourself in the long run they will pay off.”

Jones’ pity party was brief. He hitched up his britches and got busy on getting his body right.

With one swing from his lethal left-handed bat down South, the sophomore designated hitter from North County had Ole Miss fans saying, ‘Gosh oh mighty!’

“He gave me something down-and-in and I sold out on it,” Jones said of his second collegiate homer. “I wanted to get the bat there early and get out in front of it.”

What’s behind him are ailments that tested his character and motivation. Maybe the injury bug should go elsewhere because Jones, who often says the No. 2-ranked Commodores’ catch-phrase of “Anchors Down,” didn’t retreat when he was challenged mentally and physically.

He’s compensating for lost time far from his Encinitas home. His promising career took a detour or two, but he’s back on track, hitting .267 after 75 at-bats.

“That home run felt great,” Jones said. “Especially in making the crowd quiet at Ole Miss.”

In a region that lives for baseball, fried chicken and sweet tea, Jones fits. Even if his words blow his cover.

“I don’t have a Southern twang yet,” he said. “I have to remind them I’m still a California beach bum.”

Albeit one who can hit, and his massive home run was a reminder for everyone. Jones’ name may be common, but he’s no ordinary player.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports.