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Gary Jones Stars On Long Path To The Show 

2:38 PM EST

For longtime coach Gary Jones, Huntsville represents turning points in his baseball career that has now spanned over three decades. First, it was the spot where a 25-year-old infielder was a star on the field in 1986. Three years later, it was where Jones returned for his final season as

For longtime coach Gary Jones, Huntsville represents turning points in his baseball career that has now spanned over three decades.

First, it was the spot where a 25-year-old infielder was a star on the field in 1986. Three years later, it was where Jones returned for his final season as a player and first as a coach.

Lastly in 1994, Jones was back with the Stars, this time as manager. He was at the helm for the best season in franchise history, culminating in his first professional championship.

That turned out to be a stepping stone for Jones on the path to the big leagues, where he accomplished his greatest triumph.

It began with a decision to begin his coaching career before his 30th birthday. Following two solid seasons with Triple-A Tacoma in the Oakland A’s organization, Jones was told the A’s would be fielding a younger roster at Triple-A the next season. Oakland still wanted him in the organization, but as a player/coach back in Huntsville for the 1989 season. It was an easy call.

“For me, it wasn’t a tough decision because I knew once I finished playing that I wanted to get into coaching,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to start bouncing around from organization to organization like I saw a lot of other players do. I was trying to be realistic with what was going to be better for my future. Either playing a couple more years and maybe not being offered this chance or going right into coaching with this opportunity that was presented to me. I felt like it was a situation I couldn’t pass up.”

With that, Jones returned to the site of his best professional season in 1986.

That year, his first in the Oakland system, Jones played nearly every day and batted .311 with 49 RBI, 34 stolen bases, 116 runs scored, and a league-best 128 walks over 130 games for the Stars while playing with future Major League All-Stars Terry Steinbach, Walt Weiss, and Mark McGwire.

“That was a fun season. Back in 1986, that was a great situation to be here every day, have fun and play baseball,” he recalled. “The people in the front office, especially Don Mincher, created a situation where it was fun for us players to come in and play baseball every day. The fans came out and it was a great atmosphere.”

Despite the strong individual stats, the Stars were unable to capture a championship that season, falling in five games to the Columbus Astros in the Southern League Championship Series.

Once the A’s went in a different direction at the Triple-A level, Jones was back in Huntsville as a player/coach in 1989. He appeared in 96 games as a player, batting .275 with 45 RBI and 79 hits. His 107 walks and .474 on-base percentage both led the Southern League, the second time in four years he claimed the lead in walks. The Stars again made the playoffs, falling to Birmingham in the first round.

“I actually ended up getting more at-bats that year than I anticipated,” he said. “But it was a great year for me. I learned a lot and that prepared me for becoming a manager the next season.”

Jones began his full-time coaching career in the Arizona League in 1990 and quickly worked his way through the lower levels and back to Huntsville for the 1994 season.

The 1994 Southern League season is best known in Minor League Baseball history as the time when basketball legend Michael Jordan signed with the Chicago White Sox and spent the season with the Birmingham Barons, setting league-wide attendance records that haven’t been matched since.

That was one facet of the season that stood out for Jones. In a tight game with the Barons at Joe Davis Stadium, the Stars walked a Baron to put Jordan at the plate with the game on the line. That night, Jones’ strategy backfired as Jordan sent the Huntsville crowd into hysteria with a game-winning two-run double.

Above Video: Jason Wood with a walk-off hit to give the Huntsville Stars a 2-1 win over Michael Jordan and the Birmingham Barons in 1994.

However, that was a rare misstep for Jones and the Stars in what proved to be the best season in franchise history. From start to finish, the Stars dominated the league, ending the regular season with an 81-57 record for a .587 winning percentage, the best in Stars history.

In the playoffs, Huntsville swept Chattanooga in the first round before defeating Carolina in four games to clinch the second Southern League Championship in franchise history. It was a rewarding moment for Jones, who just missed a title in his first two stints in North Alabama.

“That season was very gratifying,” Jones said. “I felt like that entire year, we proved we were the best team in the Southern League. We might not have had the most talented team, but it was the best team as far as the way we played the game, doing everything right, playing the game the way it was supposed to be played, and being consistent night in and night out.”

Jones’ achievement in Huntsville earned him a promotion to Triple-A Edmonton the next season, and he continued his success with back-to-back Pacific Coast League titles in 1996 and 1997. He then debuted in the big leagues as the third base coach in 1998.

From 1999 to 2012, Jones spent time in both the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres’ organizations, including a stint as the Mobile BayBears manager from 2004-06 that featured another Southern League title in 2004.

At long last, the native of Henderson, Texas returned to the show in 2014 as the third base coach for the Chicago Cubs. There in 2016, Jones waved home the winning runs in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series as the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians to capture their first title in 108 years. It’s a moment that will be etched in his memory for a lifetime.

“Winning the World Series for the Cubs was a totally different level than anything I’d experienced,” he said. “We had a great team, good players, and being a part of that is something that nobody can ever take away from me.”

Jones returned to the minors in 2018 as the manager for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs and remained through the 2021 season. Heading into 2022, he was named manager for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in the Detroit Tigers’ system. On January 27, he was promoted back to the big leagues and will serve as first base coach in Detroit this season.

Jones is happy to be back at baseball’s top level and understands the different challenges between being a Minor League manager and Major League coach.

“Once I got to the big leagues, I am focusing mainly on one area,” he said. “Even though I know what’s going on, my biggest concern is coaching first, checking on the infield and outfield, and doing everything possible to win the game that night and figuring out how to do it the next night and again every day where in Triple-A, you might have to take a loss one night to develop certain players.”

Gary Jones managed the Lehigh Valley IronPigs from 2018-2021. Cheryl Pursell/Lehigh Valley IronPigs

Until he reports to Florida for spring training in the coming weeks, Jones will be in Henderson, hunting, fishing, and enjoying his down time in the city he grew up in.

When he takes his spot along the first base line at Comerica Park for Opening Day, the memories and lessons from his time in Huntsville will continue to shape him throughout his career.

“I had a great time in Huntsville. Good people, good fans, and I really enjoyed all three stints in 1986, 1989, and 1994,” he said. “I have many fond memories of my time there.”