Though the fans in the stands may not know it, to the players on the field, he’s an integral part of the game. He’s the athletic trainer who makes sure they can play America’s pastime at peak physical performance and helps rehabilitate them when injuries happen.
“It has been awesome working at the major-league level. On a day-to-day basis, I get to see — on our dugout, and the opposing team’s dugout — some of the most highly skilled athletes in baseball in the world, like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. I get to see the big-name guys up close and witness the speed of the game and the skills it takes. I tell everybody that the farther you’re away from the field, the easier the game looks. The reason for that is the players down on the field. Their skill level is so high that they make it look easy, and it’s not.”
After spending his entire career with the Astros — an organization he calls “phenomenal” — Jones, whose official title was assistant athletic trainer, stepped down after the 2015 season to retire from the rigorous schedule of professional baseball.
“I’ve been fortunate to have the same employer,” Jones said, “but stepping down is just the next stage. You can’t work forever!”
Jones’ involvement with athletic training goes back to high school in Lockwood, Missouri. Jones said while he was too small to enjoy playing sports, the football coach offered him the opportunity to assist with coaching and training.
This led him to attend then-Southwest Missouri State, where he worked as a student athletic trainer and majored in physical education.
He had a trial by fire when, in his second year in college, head athletic trainer Rich Lyons passed away. The search for a new head athletic trainer took four months, and in that time Jones and two other students were responsible for a lot of the athletic training on campus.
“It was one of those moments that either breaks you or makes you, and it allowed me to truly know what athletic training was all about. It didn’t scare me away, so I just kept pursuing it.”
At the time, Jones expected to work in professional football. He did two preseason internships with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1976 and 1977 while he was an MSU student, but the following year he landed a summer job with the Astros — “and it’s still my summer job,” Jones said.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in ’79, and went on to earn a master’s degree in sports medicine from another institution in ’81.
Jones said retiring has a “bittersweetness” to it. Nonetheless, he admits he looks forward to having time to pursue his other passions, such as hunting, fishing and barbecues.
Jones plans to enjoy most of his retirement with his wife, Annette, (maiden name Salmon, a 1979 MSU graduate), at their home in Houston — the city where his two youngest children, Jeremiah, 28, and Laura, 24, also live.
He plans on visiting Missouri to see his oldest daughter, Megan, and her husband, Shane Gretzinger, both MSU graduates, and their two children.
Jones attributes much of his success to the education, work and personal inspiration he received at MSU.
“I think all the people I met there during the years have just been wonderful. Coach Bill Rowe has been one of the instrumental people in my whole life, and I owe a ton to him for his faith and continued support of me. That’s a huge part of my success — his trust and comfort in my abilities and what I was able to do.”