All-Star memories swirl for Padres great Jones

Cy Young Award winner and '76 NL starter appears at renovated teen center

All-Star memories swirl for Padres great Jones

LA MESA, Calif. -- Randy Jones was surrounded by elated kids on Thursday morning as he appeared at the renovated Brady Family Teen Center, part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of East County. It was the first of many such All-Star Legacy events that Major League Baseball and the host Padres will be conducting across Greater San Diego and Tijuana leading up to the 87th All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on Tuesday night at Petco Park.

Oh, how thick are the memories for Jones right now. Going way back to his days as a Southern California kid, he enjoyed what the Boys & Girls Clubs had to offer. And then there was that one night 40 years ago, when he was a bushy-haired lefty known as the "Junkman," changing speeds on his sinker and putting together a Cy Young Award season for the Padres. He was the starting pitcher for the National League in the 47th Midsummer Classic in Philadelphia.

"It being the bicentennial year, being in Philadelphia, honoring the country as well as our national pastime, it really was an honor for me to represent the National League, and especially the San Diego Padres as our first starting pitcher every to pitch in the All-Star Game," said Jones, now 66. "I was very, very proud of it."

That night at Veterans Stadium, there were five starting position players from Cincinnati's Big Red Machine around him -- similar to what will happen on Tuesday night when an NL team is dominated on the field by Cubs (yes, fans voted then as well). Ron LeFlore singled to left on Jones' first pitch of the game, and he was an automatic stolen base that year. The great Rod Carew was on deck. But Jones remembers the confidence he felt in that situation, largely because of the confidence in those infielders who were so used to playing with each other.

2016 All-Star Game rosters

"When you looked at my infield and the guys I had on the team, I had a pretty good chance. I thought I was going to win the ball game, to be honest with you," Jones said. "I had Johnny Bench behind the plate, I've got (Pete) Rose at third, I've got (Dave) Concepcion at short, I've got (Joe) Morgan at second. And I've got Steve Garvey at first.

"Me being a ground ball pitcher, when they were asking, 'Who's playing the outfield?,' I said I didn't care. I was there to throw some ground balls and that's what I did. I played with a lot of Hall of Famers, and I was very proud to start that game."

Indeed, Carew proceeded to ground to Morgan to start a 4-6-3 double play. Garvey's RBI triple plated Rose in the bottom of the first, and Jones wound up throwing three scoreless innings and earning the decision in a 7-1 NL victory. It was part of a run in which the NL won an astounding 19 of 20 All-Star Games -- another reason Jones was so confident.

Four decades later, it is still -- by far -- the grandest of all All-Star Games in sports. One difference is certainly the parity among leagues, and the fact that the winning league gets World Series home-field advantage. But Jones says there is another big difference, and he could just take a look around him at the 100 or so kids having fun and see it.

"I'm proud that MLB gets involved in the communities like they have," he said. "It might be one big difference between today and 40 years ago, what it means to the community. I know it's going to make a lot of difference to these kids here in San Diego."

This project will support a variety of refurbishments to a facility that is home to 100 youths per day (ages 11-18). It included upgraded lighting and the complete overhaul and upgrade of all furniture, updates to windows, and renovations to the kitchen.

In addition to Jones, attendees here included Ron Fowler and Tom Seidler of the Padres' ownership group, Padres President and CEO Mike Dee; MLB Vice President of Community Affairs Tom Brasuell; Forrest Higgins, CEO of B&GCA of East County; Padres mascot Friar and members of the Pad Squad. They also had a special guest appearance by NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who just happened to be on a bike trek and showed up.

There will be plenty of events like this in the hours and days to come.

"I'm going to be jumping around here the next four or five days at functions like this, to show improvements like this that we've made in San Diego," Jones said. "I'm excited about it."

In '76, Jones led the Majors with 315 1/3 innings pitched and 25 complete games. As long as we're talking about helping kids, he has this advice for young pitchers:

"I would encourage them to back off," Jones said. "A lot of these kids today, the younger ones play year-round. Take three months off. Play soccer, get your legs in shape. You've got to sit the baseball down for a while -- not just physically, but for the mental health.

"We've all seen the game change. It's more of the power arm, 95-mph fastball, it kind of builds off of that. I'm not sure a Randy Jones in 2016 would have even gotten drafted."

The 87th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.