Sports

Boise Hawks pitching coach's patience his calling card

Doug Jones has rarely been in a hurry.

His pitches as a closer for seven major-league teams took their time getting to the plate. He didn’t lock down a consistent roster spot until he was nearly 30. At 57, he has his first job as a full-time coach in professional baseball as the Boise Hawks’ pitching coach.

“Very patient,” Jones said. “No one is going to hand you anything in this game, so I’ve had to be that way."

Soft-spoken and still rocking his other calling card, his bushy mustache, Jones’ demeanor is a welcome addition to the clubhouse.

“The first time I talked to him, he was so laid back, I was like, ‘Does he have a heartbeat?’ ” Hawks coach Frank Gonzales said. “No wonder he was so good. He’s so calm; that pressure never got to him. He’s learning a new job, but you’d never know. The kids respect that.”

Jones’ path to five All-Star Games was typical for him — better late than never. Drafted in 1978 by the Brewers, he played in four games with Milwaukee in 1982, but did not play in another MLB game until 1986.

Using a fastball that rarely topped the mid-80s, but also a devastating changeup with excellent control, some nicknamed Jones “The Sultan of Slow. “ He reached his first All-Star Game in 1988, his first season as Cleveland’s full-time closer. He retired after the 2000 season with 303 career saves, all but one after he turned 30.

He hopes his career path can show the Hawks they don’t need 100 mph pitches or that every journey to the pros is an easy ascent.

“There were guys with a lot more talent that quit, got tired of it, but I didn’t want to go home and work,” Jones said. “ If you can’t throw strikes, it doesn’t matter. Pitching, to me, is about changing speeds and location. It’s nice if you throw triple digits, but those other things matter most.”

One of the first workouts Jones had with his pitchers was to have them throw fastball after fastball, not focusing on power, but instead getting it low in the zone to use as the backbone of a repertoire. Before being hired in January by the Colorado Rockies and placed in Boise, Jones spent five seasons as a pitching coach at San Diego Christian, where he coached two of his sons at the NAIA school.

“He didn’t need 98, not even 88. He was a fastball, changeup guy like me. I’m learning how to go inside and out, cut it or sink it a bit like him. Those sorts of things are what help you move up levels,” Hawks pitcher John Sheehan said. “... We’ll probably throw 70 percent fastballs, so we need to get good at it, and he’s making sure we are.”

Growing up in Indiana with a father who built and raced cars, Jones dabbled in auto racing, but said “it didn’t go too well,” noting baseball was “a lot safer.” After helping SDCC to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston last year, and with his eldest son graduated, Jones wanted back in pro baseball. He spent parts of 2006-08 as an instructor at the Diamondbacks’ extended spring training facility in Tucson but wasn’t keen on being away from home while he still had kids in school.

When he got the call from the Rockies earlier this year, his patience paid off. But another Jones was in a rush.

“I’d come home from lunch and had just parked in the garage, talking with them on speakerphone, and my wife’s phone rings,” Jones said. “It was my daughter-in-law, and her water had just broke. So we headed back out. I had a job and a grandson the same day.”

Gonzales joked that with a few more gray hairs than in his playing days, plus that calm demeanor, Jones has given a grandfatherly vibe to his players. The Hawks may not be quite old enough to remember his playing days, but one thing that is still evident in the clips they’ve seen is there every day in the dugout.

“It’s an awesome mustache,” Sheehan said. “I asked him how he possibly can eat with it, and he says he finds a way.”

He always does.

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