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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Southland Focus : Baseball

Knock, Knock : Critics Discount Jacque Jones' Accomplishments, Making USC Outfielder Eager to Answer Them in Majors

A Look at Area Athletes Making Their Mark at The Summer Games

August 03, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Break out the hardwood bats, Jacque Jones is ready. The people who doubt him shortly will have no more excuses.

Already Jones has won acclaim in college as the center fielder and a top hitter on USC's Pacific-10 Conference championship team. Then he starred for the U.S. baseball team, leading the bronze-medal-winning Americans in almost every offensive category in the Olympics.

But something he can't change still plagues him.

In nine games during the Olympics, Jones batted .395 in 38 at-bats with five home runs and 13 runs batted in. Yet the numbers he still hears people most often whispering are 5-10, 170.

His height and weight.

Prevailing opinion is that Jones isn't big or strong enough to flourish over the course of what can be long and grinding professional seasons.

His response: In a word, (not his) poppycock.

"Somebody is always going to find a negative," Jones said after the United States had downed Nicaragua, 10-3, in the bronze-medal game Friday at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

"No matter what I did in this tournament, they'll find something. The ball flies here or whatever. I'm sure this didn't change the minds of anyone."

Maybe that's why Jones is ready to accept another immediate challenge. While almost all of his U.S. teammates talked about returning home and resting after long collegiate and summer seasons of baseball, Jones said he was ready for more.

The Minnesota Twins drafted Jones in the second round, 37th overall, and are reportedly close to signing him.

"I want to go play right now," he said. "There's no use waiting around. But really, it's up to the Twins. I'll go along with whatever they want to do."

Just as long as it involves a chance at proving those critics wrong.

"Not big enough, not strong enough, not fast enough--the list goes on and on," Jones said, ticking off his alleged shortcomings. "I just keep proving them wrong, time and time again."

Only one person besides himself has never had a doubt.

His mom.

Linda Faulk, a single parent, taught her son to believe in himself no matter what anyone else was saying.

"She is my mom, my dad, my best friend," Jones said.

"She's the reason I play this game. She's the reason I always smile and she's the reason why sometimes I feel disappointed when things don't turn out the way I want them to."

You see, Jones wouldn't care so much what his critics said if he was sure their opinion wasn't affecting his ability to provide for his family.

"I play this game for her," he said. "I want to be able to take care of her. I don't want her to work again if I can make it to the big leagues."

Jones isn't big, but he does have skills that would make him attractive to a big league team. Although he doesn't have a sprinter's speed, he is an adept base stealer and a polished outfielder.

Several times during these Games he made sterling defensive plays in the outfield, either coming in to steal bloopers just beyond the infield dirt, or retreating and running down balls hit to the gaps.

"He's a great defensive player," said Kris Benson, a right-handed pitcher from Clemson who was the United States' opening-game starter. "It's a nice feeling as a pitcher to know when the ball goes back over your head you have a guy back there who's going to catch it as long as it's hit somewhere still in the yard."

Jones has strong offensive numbers too, if statistics compiled using an aluminum bat can be believed.

His batting averages at USC have improved steadily, from .335 as a freshman to .353 as a sophomore to .375 last year.

So has his power. Jones hit 10 home runs in 61 games for the Trojans last season, 10 more for the United States in 28 pre-Olympic exhibition games, plus his team-leading five during the Games.

The question is, will he be just as good using wood?

Jones shrugs. "I'd like to be accepted for what I am," he said. "I don't fit the prototype mold of a big league player, but that doesn't mean I can't play. I wish people would just appreciate me for the player I am."

Travis Lee, the Americans' first baseman and clean-up hitter, already does. Lee has played with Jones the last three summers, two in Alaska and this one.

"When Jacque is on, you just can't get him out," Lee said. "He's just a great player all round."

After starring at San Diego High, Jones considered signing with the Kansas City Royals, who had drafted him in the 31st round. A friend talked him out of it.

That friend had a short-lived professional career after spurning a scholarship offer from Pepperdine.

Jones said his eagerness to sign is no reflection on USC.

"I wouldn't trade my years there for anything," he said. "I learned a lot and became not only a better player, but a better person."

With the Trojans, Jones started 190 of USC's 191 games. His 268 hits rank second in the school's records.

Of course, that was only college.

"Who knows," Jones said, "maybe my critics will be proven right.

"But I doubt it."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Profile

* ATHLETE: Jacque Jones.

* DISCIPLINE: Baseball.

* HOMETOWN: San Diego (attends USC).

* COMPETITIVE HISTORY: First Olympics. Led the U.S. bronze-medal-winning effort by batting .395 and leading the team with 15 hits, 12 runs, two triples, five home runs and 13 runs batted in. Has been a member of Team USA the last two summers. Batted .376 last summer and .407 in 28 pre-Olympic exhibition games this summer.

* PERSONAL: Drafted in the second round, 37th overall, by the Minnesota Twins. Attended San Diego High and was drafted in the 31st round by the Kansas City Royals, but chose to accept a scholarship offer from USC. His 28-game hitting streak in '95 is a Trojan record. Is known for keeping things loose in the dugout and clubhouse. "When he's doing good he's smiling, and when he's doing bad he's smiling," says USA teammate Travis Lee. "He has a lot of fun playing the game."

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