The Sugar Land Skeeters honored a baseball legend Saturday by retiring the No. 4 jersey of Grover “Deacon” Jones, who has served as a special assistant and advisor to the team since its inaugural season in 2012.
An emotional Jones, 84, was surrounded by family and friends and thousands of fans in the stands as the team retired his number in a pregame ceremony. In his honor, the Skeeters all wore special No. 4 jerseys that were auctioned off for charity at the end of the game. The first 1,000 fans at the game each received a Deacon Jones bobblehead and several tributes were made to him throughout the evening.
“At first I was very apprehensive. I felt that many people in the city had done enough for me. My wife just told me to embrace it,” Jones said before the game. “She reminded me when I was 14 years old … I saw the black face on TV, it was a guy named Jackie Robinson, and I said to my daddy, ‘I want to be just like him.’ My brother and I said that. And he said, ‘OK.’ ”
Jones pursued his dream, spending a combined 11 years in the minor leagues and parts of two seasons with the Chicago White Sox, making his big league debut on Sept. 8, 1962. His major league experience consisted of 60 plate appearances with a .286 batting average, one home run and 10 RBIs.
It was in the minors where Jones, who later was a major league coach with the White Sox, Houston Astros and San Diego Padres, excelled as a player. There he had a career .319 average with 154 home runs and .528 slugging percentage. In 1956, he had 135 hits and 20 homers with the Dubuque Packers, with whom he hit .409 for the season and set a Midwest League record that still stands.
“There is a little story about that,” Jones said. “In spring training I was on a fast track going to the big leagues as a rookie and I hit a triple against Sandy Koufax and I slid head-first and something popped in my shoulder,” he said.
Having majored in physiotherapy in college, he knew that was bad news.
“The doctors said, ‘Deacon, if you don’t have this operation you’ll never play baseball,’ ” Jones said. “In those days they were butchers. If they had orthoscopic surgery like they do now, I would have considered it.”
Remembering his promise to his brother to make it to the majors, Jones pressed on without the surgery. He was assigned to Dubuque, Iowa, where he was given steroid shots to aid the injury.
“As luck would have it, within a month and a half I was hitting .430. The ball looked like a beach ball,” he said. “And all of a sudden, at the end of the season with two weeks to go, I’m hitting .420 and somebody said, ‘Deacon, you’ve got a chance to win the Silver Bat.’ And I said, ‘the Silver Bat, what’s that?’”
The Silver Bat is an award given to the best hitters in the American League, National League and the minor leagues, which at the time included Mexico.
“Now all of a sudden I want to win the bat. I couldn’t sleep or nothing, I just wanted to win that bat. I went outside my realm. Instead of going 2-for-4, I’d go 1-for-4 and a walk or whatever and 0-for-4,” he said. “Well, as luck would have it I ended up hitting .409 and it’s a record that stood well over 60 years.”
He has also been married to the same woman for 60 years, Virginia “Tiki” Jones. Despite health issues, she came out to the game. They were joined by their daughter, Monica, and grandchildren, Dylan and D.J. Also joining Jones were his brother Johnny Jones and his former teammate and roommate, Don Buford.
Jones said he always gives youngsters the advice to have goals and dream big. He said dreams come true when followed by the incremental steps to achieve them.
“I tell people all the time about baseball, think about the hall of fame, there are a thousand of the best ballplayers in the hall of fame,” he said. “Nobody talks about how many times they’ve failed. They’re the best! They fail seven times out of 10. Yet they are the best. Life is a series of disappointments, frustrations and failures, interrupted with a few successes. Deacon’s law!”
The Skeeters blundered their salute to Jones by losing to the Lancaster Barnstormers 8-1. The game was marred in the eighth inning by a bench-clearing brawl that led to the ejection of two Barnstormers players, Skeeters manager Pete Incaviglia and Sugar Land players Denis Phipps, Rico Noel and Albert Cordero.
The Atlantic League issued suspensions ranging from two to five games for each. With Incaviglia out for five games, pitcher Dan Runzler has been promoted to interim manager.
The Skeeters released outfielder Jabari Henry and signed free agent pitcher Mike Hauschild and first baseman D.J. Peterson.
The Skeeters hit the road for their second 10-game trip in three weeks. They begin with three games at the High Point Rockers, followed by three with the Somerset Patriots and four with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. They return to Constellation Field on Aug. 16 for a seven-game series with the New Britain Bees. Aug. 16 is Star Wars night, which carries over to Aug. 17 with a Swatson Star Wars bobblehead giveaway.
Skeeter of the Week
Rico Noel, who has only played 21 games so far with the Skeeters, is second in the Atlantic League with 27 stolen bases. He has been caught just three times.
Noel has gone 20-for 53 (.377) with 10 runs, two doubles, a home run, and four RBIs.
Atlantic League Second Half Standings
Wins – Losses – Games back
York Revolution 18-5-0
Sugar Land Skeeters 15-8-3
S. Maryland Blue Crabs 12-10-5.5
Lancaster Barnstormers 9-14-9
High Point Rockers 13-11-0
Long Island Ducks 10-12-2
New Britain Bees 7-15-5
Somerset Patriots 7-16-5.5
Skeeters 5, Barnstormers 2
Skeeters 7, Barnstormers 6
Skeeters 4, Barnstormers 2
Skeeters 8, Barnstormers 5
Barnstormers 7, Skeeters 3
Barnstormers 8, Skeeters 1
Skeeters 3, Barnstormers 1