It’s a tradition before the first Little League All-Star game for players to share with the crowd their name, number and favorite player.
When the Encinitas Little League All-Stars introduced themselves, they all had the same player: Spencer Jones.
When Jones was their age, he helped ELL advance to the Western Regional in San Bernardino. That put him on a pedestal with the youngsters, as well as him starring at La Costa Canyon High School and Vanderbilt University.
“The video was adorable,” Jones said. “It was the coolest thing I’ve seen.”
Jones will see his name come up on the Major League Baseball draft board next month.
The 6-foot-7 outfielder is expected to be selected in the opening two rounds. His keen showing at the recent MLB draft combine at Petco Park only enhanced his chances.
“He has a swing that creates natural leverage and power,” said a player personnel executive for a West Coast team who asked not to be named. “He’s a plus runner with a plus arm, with instincts and athleticism to play all three outfield positions.”
Jones has been in this spot before leading up to the draft.
Heading into his senior year at LCC, Jones, then a two-way player, was slated to be a top-10 overall pick. Then the injury bug bit, and it took a bite out of his plans.
A fractured elbow, and his preference to play at Vanderbilt, had Jones shifting lanes. The Los Angeles Angels took him in the 31st round, knowing he was bent on getting fit and competing at the college game’s highest level.
In disguise, his arm ailment was a blessing.
“I couldn’t imagine being a professional right out of high school,” Jones said. “I wasn’t mature enough yet. By going to Vanderbilt, I’ve built a whole network of friends and mentors, and I’ll always have a place to go back to.”
His final year at Vandy was dandy as a healthy Jones — he also underwent elbow surgery and was waylaid by COVID-19 — settled into the heart of the Commodores’ lineup. He hit 12 home runs with 60 RBI and batted .370, while also tying a school-record with six hits in a game.
“I love it for him,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “He’s been through some tough things in his college career with injuries and even just weird things in the COVID fall where he missed 34 days because he was a close contact.
“So, I’m just glad that that kid is on the field every single day in the third hole, playing great defense, running the bases and hitting.”
Jones’ journey in becoming draft-eligible again was daunting. The one-time can’t-miss prospect was battling to stay on the field and to keep his dream alive of playing in the big leagues.
It wasn’t easy staying positive, something Jones admits and also how that helped him grow on and off the field.
“It was hard,” he said. “The first day of school I wanted to be an impact guy and I wasn’t 100 percent. I was trying to impress the older guys and gain the trust of the younger guys.
“When you are a freshman, there is so much going through your head that it’s like drinking water through a fire hose because there are so many things you are trying to figure out.
“But you just have to stick with it, more than anything. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything now. I learned how to take care of my body, learned from others and just treated people like you wanted to be treated.”
Now the tricky part comes in learning where Jones will land.
When asked, Jones said going to any team is a blessing. When pressed, he pledged his allegiance to the local nine.
“The Padres … it wouldn’t get much better than that,” Jones said of his favorite squad.
Then again, the Dodgers know Jones, too. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who lives in Cardiff, watched many of Jones’ ELL games. Roberts’ son, Cole, was Jones’ teammate.
It’s Jones’ newest buddies, those ELL kids, that have lifted him. He’s flattered they are tuned in to someone none of them knew, but they certainly knew of him.
When Jones attended an ELL All-Star game on Father’s Day, the young players flocked around him with reverence.
“It was special and definitely inspiring,” Jones said. “I didn’t really know how to feel in talking to them after one of the parents told me I was a role model to them.”
Jones’ roll in the pros will soon get started, with his band of ELL supporters eager to cheer him.
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports