By Scott M. Johonson Herald Writer
College athlete of the week
Player: Derek Jones
Year, school: Senior, Washington State University
Hometown: Snohomish (Snohomish High School)
What he did: The reigning Pacific-12 Conference player of the week broke the WSU record for career home runs when he hit a grand slam in a 10-0 win over Portland University on Tuesday. It was Jones’s ninth home run of the season and the 41st of his career, breaking Jeff Hooper’s school record of 40.
What’s next: Jones and his .402 batting average will lead Washington State (16-13) into a three-game series against Utah this weekend.
So, you did it.
Of course, we’re talking about the WSU home run record, which you broke with a grand slam on Tuesday night. Was it a relief?
Yeah, I didn’t really pursue any records like this in the past, so it was kind of new territory for me. Going to the plate, I was not really thinking about it and taking what the pitcher was giving me, just like I always do. I set it relatively quickly (after tying the record last Friday), so it was definitely nice to get it out of the way and put the focus back on the team.
Did you hear a lot of talk about the record?
Yeah, in interviews. And it comes up a little bit in the clubhouse. I met some of the other guys on the list, guys who were in second and third place, and they would joke about how they got there in only two, three years. So you’d hear about it now and then. It definitely feels good to get it out of the way.
Not a bad way to set the record, huh, with a grand slam?
I was more happy with having two strikes and fouling off a couple of pitches to get the guy to make the mistake he made. It was more about getting four runs and going up 6-0. So I was pretty happy about that.
How long do you think the record will stand?
I have no idea. I was thinking about that the other day. In 1987 is when the record was set, so that’s 25 years ago. If that’s how long it stands, for 25 more years, I’d be happy. But I wouldn’t mind if it got broken in four years, to be honest. It’s great to be thought of as one of the all-time greats to play here. With the way the game is going, with moving players over and the hit-and-run and scratching out runs, it may have a chance to stick around awhile. But they could also bring in one of these guys who’s country strong, and he could break it pretty soon.
Do you consider yourself a power hitter?
I identify myself as a hitter with power. Once you consider yourself a power hitter, it means you strike out a lot. That’s not me. I never want to be a guy who strikes out a lot.
You’re definitely proving to be a hitter with power. You’re hitting over .400 for the season. What’s been working for you?
Staying calm. In years past, I’d get a little too wound up and beat myself up. This year, I’m not letting the little things get to me. I’m staying positive and moving on. I’m playing with a lot of confidence right now, and when you’re playing with confidence in yourself, good things are going to happen.
You’re a senior now. So what are you going to miss most about Pullman?
Everything. I love how everything’s so close. It’s a little big school. You can walk to everything in 10 minutes. My apartment is 10 minutes from campus, and I’ll miss that close atmosphere. And the people; I’ll miss that. Everyone comes here with similar ideologies, and they leave as a Coug. Not every school is like that. It means a lot to people here to be a Coug.
What’s it mean to be a Coug?
When you go to college, some people are really prideful of where they went to college, and some just move on. Cougs don’t move on. They buy the Coug license plates, the sweatshirts, they wave the flag. It means something to them that they went here. Even though it might not be the most desirable place to live, I can’t think of a better place to go to college. I love it here, and I couldn’t have asked for anything else _ besides a national championship, and we’re working on that.
That would be fitting. You capped off your Snohomish High School career with a state title at Safeco Field. So the plan is to finish your career as a Coug in a similar fashion?
Definitely. Right now, we’re in sixth place in the conference, but you can ask anyone on the team and they’ll tell you we’re not even close to where we should be. We’re still pretty young, but we’re getting better. We’ve given away a lot of games, but we’ve also played well against the top ranked teams. We’re ready to make a run and surprise some people in the postseason.
You were a fullback/linebacker at Snohomish High. Do you ever miss the football days?
Yes, especially in the fall. You see all the buzz here with Mike Leach, and … I’m not saying I could play, but it was a big part of my life. But I’ve moved on. I don’t want to be one of those old guys sitting around talking about the glory days of football, so I’ve moved on. But I still have that fullback/linebacker mentality. I definitely miss it.
When was the last time you really got to lay someone out?
My senior year (of high school). You don’t get to do it in baseball. If you do, you might get in trouble.
The problem is that you hit all those home runs. So there isn’t room for any collisions at the plate.
Yeah, I might get kicked out if I run somebody over. I don’t want to do that.
Do you hope professional baseball is in your future?
Definitely. I was drafted last year (by the Baltimore Orioles, in Round 13), but I came back to have a season just like I’m having. I’m going to continue to raise expectations and not just settle for being a good college player.
Would the Mariners be a perfect fit?
Anything would. You can’t be picky with things like this. But it would definitely be nice to play for the AquaSox, get to go home for a year or two, then work your way up and eventually play at Safeco for the Mariners.
They don’t like power hitters at Safeco, you know.
I don’t think power hitters like to go there. But it’s all mindset. It’s all about the mindset.
And you’d be putting your perfect record at Safeco Field in jeopardy.
Yeah. But that would be OK. I don’t think I’d mind if I lost a couple of games in a Mariner uniform. I could handle that. It would definitely be an honor to play there, and I can only dream of playing there again. I’m going to hold onto those dreams a little longer.