Five-time baseball Hall of Famer and legendary player, Grover “Deacon” Jones, a former major league player for the Chicago White Sox,is still making pivotal moves in the sport as he helps bring the first independent league baseball stadium to Sugar Land.
He made his advent into the sport as a minor league player in the Midwest League and set the record for the highest single-season batting average in 1956. He went on to play in the major leagues as a first baseman for the Chicago White Sox from 1962-1966.
Jones was the first African American recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and also was inducted into four other Halls of Fame.
Jones used his connections in baseball to help bring the city of Sugar Land its first Independent League baseball stadium.
“I played in a charitable golf tournament with one of the council members, Michael Schiff, and he asked if I knew of anybody that could build [Sugar Land] an independent stadium,” says Jones.
The retired ball player contacted long-time friend, Peter Kirk, who built stadiums for the Baltimore Orioles, and took part in a conversation with Atlantic League Baseball Commissioner Joe Klein to recommend Sugar Land as a prime spot for the area’s first independent league stadium.
“I told him that they could not afford to not come here. They can start their own western division in Sugar Land. They put a bid in and won it hands down, and the rest is history,” says Jones.
Today, he serves as the special assistant to the president of Sugar Land Skeeters.
Jones envisions the stadium as a place where families can come together for a relaxing time to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.
“We live in a fractured society, no one sits down at 6 o’clock anymore, there is no real family romance, but you can come to our ballpark and bond, and enjoy one another,” says Jones.
The stadium, a state-of-the art Triple-A ballpark, seats 7,500, with room to expand to 10,000 seats, and offers a family friendly atmosphere.
“You bring your children and they can go to the kid’s area and play and you can sit down and relax and watch the game,” says Jones.
Stadium amenities include 21 suites, upper level club seating, meeting, entertainment and dining space, a picnic and playground area, carousel, swimming pool, and more.
“We are for the fan as well as the person that knows nothing about baseball—we are about having fun, and family entertainment,” says Jones.
Pursuing The Dream
Jones credits his faith in God and the support and sacrifice of family with helping him to realize his dream of playing in the major leagues.
Sitting on the bench in his brand new Chicago White Sox uniform for his first major league game, his thoughts were not on the crowd of 50,000 in attendance, but on his family and the support and inspiration they provided through the years.
Jones recalls a conversation with his brother, John, whose aspirations of becoming a professional athlete were halted after being injured at the age of 16 in a tragic car accident that killed a passenger in the other vehicle.
“We were in the hospital room by ourselves and he looked at me and told me, ‘I can’t make the big leagues now and he said, promise me you will,’ and I did,” says Jones.
Jones thought of the lean times his mother and father faced, raising two sons and the commitment they made to pay for their children’s college educations.
He also remembered the values his father passed down to him, including the significance of believing in a Higher Power, respect of self and other people, the importance of discipline, standing out front and never being afraid to ask ‘why’ and ‘why not.’
His family’s encouragement and convictions sustained Jones in the midst of numerous trials on his journey to fulfill his dreams.
“That is what I thought about. I thought about those things when I was playing ball in the South and I couldn’t stay with my white teammates,” says Jones.
The former major league player recalls an incident when his team stopped in a small town between Macon and Augusta, Ga. on a team road trip.
When he and his teammates went in, a man serving behind the counter singled him out and shouted for him to get out and then pulled a gun from beneath the counter and pointed it within inches of his face.
“I have never seen hate up close like that in my life. This man didn’t even know me. I was like a zombie, and the team’s manager grabbed me gently because I couldn’t move and told us to go to the bus,” says Jones.
Stunned by the experience, Jones called home in tears, “crying like mad,” as he tried to get the story out. His mother consoled him and then put his father on the phone.
“You finished boy, you stopped crying yet? I am only going to say this once.
“Don’t ever let one person or any group of persons stop you from realizing your dream of being a big league player, and don’t you dare come home,’” recalls Jones of the conversation.
At that point his father hung up the phone.
“At that precise moment—I became a man,” says Jones.
Sharing the experience still brings tears to Jones’ eyes, but he heeded his father’s words and continued to follow his dream.
“The message is, it is alright to cry. The question becomes when you get through crying, what are you going to do about it? You have got to get up, you have got to find that inner strength and that mental toughness. There are ups and downs, but that is the beauty of life, we can think, we can reason, and we live in a country where we can be anything we want,” says Jones.
Breaking Down Barriers
Looking back Jones is grateful for his journey, “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
“Because it has made me into the man that I am today,” says Jones.
Jones appreciates his wife for standing beside him and facing her own challenges as her husband pursued his dream.
At a minor league game in Savannah, Ga., his wife, Virginia, and the spouse of another Black player had arrived late to one of the games and decided to sit in the seats behind home plate, reserved at that time for Whites.
“The whole right side of the infield were just statues,” shares Jones.
According to Jones, when the team’s general manager pled with the pair to move for fear of losing advertisers, both refused.
After the game, Jones came out and asked what they were doing. They explained that they had made a decision before the game that “it was hot” and they were not going to sit in the seating area designated for Blacks, located behind a fence, off the left field line. They also felt that their husbands were among the best players on the team, shares Jones of their explanation.
When word got out to local media, the incident sparked a major boycott in the Black community that led the team’s general manager to ultimately make a decision to move the ball club in the middle of the season to another city, according to Jones.
“The general manager called a meeting in the middle of June, and this was unheard of, but he said ‘boys we are going to move the entire franchise,’” shares Jones.
“Because of two little black women they moved a whole franchise in the middle of the season because they stood their ground. A lot of other things happened, but I thank God for my wife and what she did. She is a wonderful woman,” says Jones.
Love of Baseball
At the age of 74, his focus is now on sharing the love of baseball with others.
When he took on his new role in the Skeeters organization, Jones shared his hopes for every young person, particularly those from underprivileged families, to have a chance to attend their first baseball game.
“I thought about the first time I saw baseball in the major leagues. My father took me and my brother by the hand, walked up the ramp at Evans Field and I remember seeing all of the greenery, and that picture stuck in my mind,” says Jones.
The organization turned Jones’ vision into reality with the creation Deacon’s Dug Out.
“They told me—we are going to give you 16 seats at every game,” shared Jones.
The initiative will provide an opportunity for deserving youth and families who can’t afford it to attend a Skeeters game.
“It warms my heart to think that this will be my legacy. The ‘Big Guy’ is going to ask what did you do downstairs to help your fellowman,” says Jones.
“So at the end of the day, maybe I did do something right.”