By Donna Thornton/News Editor
When Jerry Jones’ family and friends gathered last weekend to celebrate Jones’ 80th birthday the party theme was baseball/softball, with good reason.
Jones has loved the sport almost all his life and continues to play in senior league softball tournaments.
Jones was in Las Vegas week before last for the International Senior Softball Championships when a ball-playing friend let word slip about the party Oct. 13 at Southside Baptist Church. Jones’ family had tried to keep the party a secret for the guest of honor.
Even without the element of surprise, the party — like the tournmaent — was a a great success.
Jones’ team, the Venice, Fla.-based Seniors 4 Sight, won the championship and Jones was named Most Valuable Player – the same results the team had last year competing in the same contest.
Jones said he started playing baseball as a kid, and he just never stopped.
In fact, in the Jones’ home, as wife Barbara tried to count the MVP awards on the walls, there were just too many to enumerate.
And the trophies and plaques that fill the walls are just a portion of the ones Jones has earned. When his latest championship ring arrives, he’ll have enough to cover the fingers of one hand.
“They put me in the hall of fame,” Jones mentions, pointing to a plaque declaring him a “Softball Legend” in the Heartland Hall of Fame in Chattanooga.
Along the path that brought all those trophies and honors back to Southside, Jerry and Barbara said they’ve gained many friends from across the country and had the opportunity to visit many much of it.
They’ve filled scrapbooks and photo albums with team pictures, and their lives with good times and good memories on and around the diamond.
Jones said he grew up a St. Louis fan and remains a fan, as he waited Thursday for the team’s rain-delayed game to recommence.
“That was the closest team around,” Jones said, “Sometimes we were able to get them on the radio.”
Barbara recalls that she met Jones in 1955, and “he’d been playing a long time before that.”
“Every town used to have a ball team,” Jones said, and he played on Southside’s team, competing against neighboring teams. He played on Goodyear’s team as well, and on a team sponsored by Janie Terrell’s Mountaintop Flea Market.
All the while, Jones worked to help others hone their skills and love of the game – coaching Little League, helping to start a Pony League for those who aged-out of Little League at 13, coaching women’s teams and church teams.
It was around 1996, he said, when he was approached about playing travel ball. After he retired from Goodyear, he played with the Georgia Crackers, and later switched to the Georgia Peaches. Both were teams for players 65 and older.
Jones now plays with Seniors 4 Sight – the Florida-based team – and he’s the only Alabama player on the team. He also plays with a Birmingham team, but said that team doesn’t compete on the same level as one that won the championship. Playing with them, he said, helps him keep in shape for the other team.
Southside Mayor Wally Burns was one of those at the party wishing Jones’ a happy birthday. He recalled playing baseball with Jones.
“He’s one of the best first basemen I’ve ever seen,” Burns said, asking Jones, “are you still playing first base?”
After learning that Jones was an outfielder now, he joked: “He’s one of the faster ones (on the team) so they put him in the outfield.”
“I can run a little more than most of the 80s,” Jones said.
“He runs good,” Barbara said. “He’s being modest.”
Jones said he plans to continue to play as long as its fun and doesn’t hurt too much. After playing two or three games in a row, he said, it can get rough.