Minors journeyman wins HR title

Minors journeyman wins HR title

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mitch Jones was thrilled to be here, don't get him wrong. In no way did he want to belittle being the 2009 Joe Bauman Award Winner as the Minor League's top home run hitter.

He was excited to get the award -- as well as the $7,000 that comes along with it ($200 for each home run he hit during the Minor League season) -- but it's understandable that June 16 of this past year stands out just a little bit more.

That's when Jones got called up to the big leagues for the first time and picked up his first Major League at-bat. Hit No. 1 came the next day.

In the end, the Major League debut is obviously the goal," said Jones, who had spent 10 seasons in the Minors waiting for that moment. "That's why I play the game, that's why I put all this time in. Some of the things you pick up along the way, with the home runs and some of that stuff, they're nice, too. But you're in the game to try and make a career and a living doing it."

Originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2000 Draft by the Yankees out of Arizona State University, Jones once did get a call up to New York in 2006, but never got into a game. This time, his stay was also short, but he did collect 13 Major League at-bats and four hits to go along with 21 days of service time.

In those moments, that's when all the time, all the bus rides, all the Minor League home runs seemed worth it. At the start of the season, Jones had 200 career homers in the Minors -- the most without having played in a big league game. Needless to say, he was pleased to break that schneid, even if it took him until age 31 to do it.

"When you're there, I think it's easy to step back and say it was worth it," Jones said. "The object now is to get there and stick and not go up and down. While you're there, any time you put in in the Minor Leagues is definitely worth being there.

"That's pretty much the ultimate goal there. It was definitely worth it, but I've got a long time ahead of me."

Jones was just one of the many Minor League Award winners at Monday's lunch. Executives, front office staff and scouts were on hand to be recognized by their peers. That Jones was the one to collect the Joe Bauman Award is because of some last-second heroics and a tiebreaker system that worked in his favor.

Mariners prospect Jonathan Gaston homered on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 to give him 35 home runs for the season in the Class A Advanced California League. Jones entered the final day of games on Sept. 7 one behind his younger counterpart. In his final at-bat of the season, Jones went deep to tie things up.

The tiebreaker, as luck would have it for Jones, was RBIs. Gaston, who turned 23 in October, had driven in 100, certainly nothing to sneeze at. Jones finished with 103 to give him the award and a free trip to Indianapolis.

"I probably had hundreds less at-bats," Jones quipped, though he was right, with his 387 at-bats to Gaston's 518. "They probably should've done two awards. But he's a youngster, he's got time to do it again somewhere else."

Jones doesn't want Gaston to spend too much time in the Minors. After over 1,000 games, more than 3,800 at-bats and now 235 career home runs, he wouldn't wish that on anyone. He's not approaching any records, though he's on the short list in terms of career active home runs. That has led some to make those "Bull Durham" cracks about it being a dubious honor.

"I still get that. I get that a lot from my teammates," Jones said. "I get a little bit of those Crash Davis jokes. All you can do is try to put up numbers each year.

"It's a funny game. Some guys find themselves in the right spots all the time. They always seem to be in those spots where guys get hurt and they get opportunities. Other guys don't seem to find themselves in those spots all the time. You just have to be in the right spots at the right time."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.