By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
Owen Jones has no problem admitting he once felt overwhelmed by the shadow cast by his brother, Austin, while they were growing up in Edmonds. Austin “Bubba” Jones was bigger than Owen and was a legend on the baseball diamond from a very young age.
One problem: Austin Jones is three years younger than Owen.
And so it was only fitting that Owen Jones, who this spring completed a four-year baseball career at the University of Portland, had to follow his not-so-little brother into the world of minor-league baseball.
“He’s been impressing people since he was 8 years old,” said Owen Jones, a 23-year-old relief pitcher who is in his first season in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization. “He could hit a ball a country mile. I was often referred to as ‘Bubba’s brother.’ He was pretty well known, and I was always trying to make a name for myself.”
Now that older brother has caught up to his younger sibling, 20-year-old Bubba couldn’t be happier.
“It’s awesome,” said Austin Jones, a first baseman who just completed his second year of rookie-level ball with the Gulf Coast Yankees. “That’s one of the main things I wanted. I wanted him to get a chance; he deserved it.”
Barring a trade, the Jones boys aren’t likely to face each other unless they reach the majors. This season they played in home stadiums 2,300 miles apart — Owen Jones pitched for the Dodgers’ Class A affiliate in Ogden, Utah, while Austin Jones was in Tampa, Fla., playing in the Gulf Coast League.
But they’ve become as close as ever now that each lists “professional baseball player” as his occupation.
“It’s not as weird now (as it was last summer) because I’m playing minor-league ball,” Owen Jones said. “Last year, when I was going into my fifth year (of college)) at Portland, playing in the summer collegiate league, and he was playing minor-league ball, that was kind of a hit to the ego.”
It’s hard to say which Jones brother is more excited now that Owen is playing pro ball. While Owen Jones fulfilled a lifelong dream by getting drafted in June (the Dodgers picked him in the 19th round), Austin might have been more excited about his older brother getting drafted than he was to hear his own name called a year earlier.
“I swear, I was even more nervous this year,” Austin said of the June draft. “He was not vocal about (what teams were) talking to him. He wouldn’t talk about it at all.”
Austin Jones, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2011 draft directly out of Edmonds-Woodway High School, said it’s been nice to have the person he trusts most in the world going through the same experiences.
“(Earlier this season) I was in a pretty big slump, and he talked to me like a big brother should,” said Austin, who hit .311 in June but .200 in July to finish the year with a .223 average. “I was pretty bummed. He just said: ‘Stick with it. Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ He said exactly what I needed to hear.”
Owen Jones heeded the experienced advice of his brother to help get him out of some of his own struggles, including a rough July that helped lift his ERA to its current 4.56.
Yet both brothers say that their correspondences, via text message, rarely have to do with baseball. They’re usually checking in on each other, like brothers do — planning their next fishing trip or looking forward to getting together in the offseason.
Despite having a three-year advantage on his brother, Owen Jones never had quite the natural baseball ability, nor the girth, of Bubba. By the fourth or fifth grade, Austin Jones was bigger than his brother, who was already in junior high school.
“I was always the bigger kid because he’s lactose intolerant,” joked Austin Jones, who turned 20 years old on Aug. 20 and has shed almost 25 pounds from his high school weight of 220. “So I got a little more dairy in me.”
Because the two never played on the same field, the older brother rarely got a chance to match up against baby brother on the diamond. But the occasion did arise once, when Owen Jones was home from college last winter.
The brothers went to an Eastside batting cage, where Owen Jones threw pitches so his brother could work on his swing.
“I don’t know what he was trying to do in there, but I didn’t want him to hit one ball on me,” Owen Jones said. “I didn’t want any part of him hitting a ball off me. … I threw as hard as I could in the cage. I wanted to make sure he knew I was the older brother.”
So how did it go?
“Ask him, and I’m sure he’ll tell you he got a few hits,” Owen Jones said. “But ask me, and I think I did all right.”
Austin Jones admits that the session was more challenging than he expected.
“He was throwing some good stuff,” the younger Jones brother said. “I love his changeup. It’s probably the best changeup I’ve ever seen. I hate it, but I love it.”
Ask Austin Jones what his dream scenario would be for the Jones brothers and he doesn’t have to think too long.
“The ultimate, perfect situation would be him facing me in the World Series,” the younger Jones brother said. “Dodgers-Yankees, what could be better than that?”
Of course, there would be the possibility that little brother could hit a home run and ruin his big brother’s offseason.
“I would not feel bad,” Austin Jones said, “at all.”
And if Owen were to strike him out with a changeup and make Austin “Bubba” Jones the most hated man in New York?
“Whatever happens,” Bubba Jones said, “it would be all smiles.”