Type the word “athlete” into Google, and a picture of Chad Jones will probably come up.
Coming out of Southern Laboratory High School in Baton Rouge, La., he was the nation’s top-ranked safety. In his three years at Louisiana State, he played in all 40 games, making 19 starts. He led the Tigers in interceptions his junior season and was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft by the New York Giants.
The Houston Astros selected him in the thirteenth round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. And then in 2010 the Milwaukee Brewers took him while he was in the middle of contract negotiations for his first NFL contract.
Because he hit over .500 his senior season in high school while featuring a 91 mile-per-hour fastball from the left side. Because in his sophomore season at LSU, he hit .343 as the starting center fielder for the top-ranked Tigers.
But that was before spring football practice started, which he left the baseball team for six weeks to participate in. No worries though, because when he was done locking down receivers, he started mowing down hitters.
Jones was buried on the outfield depth chart when he came back, but in an effort to find his best athlete a spot on the postseason roster, head coach Paul Mainieri asked him to throw a bullpen session. Despite not toeing the rubber since high school, he sported pinpoint command and still rang his fastball up in the low 90s. Two days later, he pitched in a simulated game and struck out all three batters he faced.
When he stepped on the hill for the first time in a real game, Jones recorded two strikeouts with the bases loaded in the eighth inning against Auburn to help the Tigers seal a 7-6 victory. He preserved another one run lead when he fired a scoreless seventh inning at Arkansas. To top it all off, he recorded 2.2 scoreless innings of no-hit ball while tallying three strikeouts in the College World Series final against Texas.
That was the last time he was seen on the baseball field though. All that arm strength, bat speed and potential was shelved in favor of the gridiron. But just two weeks after he signed his rookie contract, the sport he chose to harness his athleticism towards was nearly taken away from him.
In the early morning of June 25, 2010, Jones lost control of his Range Rover and slammed into a pole in New Orleans. His left leg was mangled, and while doctors avoided amputating the limb, they insisted his athletic career was over.
“My bones were exposed. I had permanent nerve damage,” Jones said. “They said I was done. I couldn’t believe the doctors were telling me that.”
He refused to believe it actually. Even though it was going to take months and multiple surgeries, before he could even walk, Jones was determined to play again. By October 2011, he was sprinting again, but not as fast as he was before. His 60-yard dash time had dropped from 4.57 to 4.84, and even though the Giants were impressed by his progress, they eventually waived him.
Now type in “resilient.”
Jones spent the next three months doing two-a-day workouts, and the effort landed him a tryout with the Eagles in December 2012.
“He was determined to play football. That was his focus,” Giants director of player development Charles Way said. “I will always remember him saying, even when we were in the hospital, ‘I’ll be back.’ ”
“When it came to football, just as a defensive back, I was stuck at 90%,” Jones said.
Now combine the two and squeeze the word “freak” in between, and you’ll find this incredible comeback story.
It started to come back to him at his son’s little league game in January. The bat and the batting cage were calling his name and the itch began to resurface. He decided to scratch it with line drive after line drive off of the back net. It was kind of like that time when he came back to baseball after nearly two months without picking one up and decided to give pitching a shot. That seemed to go fairly well (cue major understatement sound), so why not take one more stab at it?
Although he longer possesses the ability to land a punishing blow or change directions by NFL standards, Jones has more than enough tools in his shed to climb the ladder of professional baseball.
You know those five tools that MLB scouts are always looking for? He has four of those. Running speed, check. Arm strength, yup. Hitting for average: .343. Fielding? He patrolled the outfield for the nation’s best baseball and football teams, so I think he’s alright there. And he hit a home run in limited at-bats in college and put on a clinic in the cage after not swinging a bat since 2009, so the power could come too.
Right now though, he’s focusing on that gun he’s got holstered on his left side. When he first started throwing again in February, his fastball was only at 82 mph. A few weeks later he hit 85, and by mid April he was up to 87.
In several workouts since, Jones showcased that low-90s fastball again, along with a biting slider that he hopes to eventually throw in the 80s. In a 40-pitch session in front of scouts from several teams last month, scouts were impressed by his smooth, seemingly effortless delivery. The Cincinnati Reds were so impressed that they took him in the ninth round of this month’s draft.
How’s the leg that was once barely holding on, holding up?
“When it comes to pitching, there’s no glitch, no hitch in any part of my form,” Jones said. “I can push off. My leg has been put to the test.”
Mainieri, who has coached several major leaguers and a countless number of players on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List, isn’t the least bit surprised. He compares Jones to Jeff Samardzija, the former All-American receiver at Notre Dame who is now the Chicago Cub’s ace.
“They’re the two greatest athletes I’ve ever coached,” said Mainieri, who coached at Notre Dame before coming to LSU. “Chad, he can throw the ball 90-92 miles per hour, and he’s got good command. And you know there won’t be a better athlete on the mound.”
Well there goes that old “pitchers aren’t athletes” notion.
To see more of Chad Jones pitching, from WDSU News Click Here
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