Garrett Jones came out of nowhere in 2009. Well, maybe it wasn’t nowhere, but it’s probably fair to say that not many people expected the heretofore 4A journeyman to take Pittsburgh by storm. A veteran of 1,038 minor-league games over parts of 11 seasons — and just 31 in the big leagues — Jones was called up by the Pirates in late June and proceeded to hit .293/.372/.567 with 21 home runs in just 314 at bats.
David Laurila: Last season, at age 28, you finally got an extended big-league opportunity. Were you ready before that?
Garrett Jones: Well, I think it took me a little longer on the mental part of it. I got up there and wanted to do too much when I was just getting part-time duty with the Twins. Because I was trying to do too much, I really didn’t have much success. But I got a little taste and learned that to be successful I needed to have the right mental approach. I just wanted to get that second chance, that second opportunity, to show what I can do.
DL: Did the same player who was with the Twins, in 2007, show up in Pittsburgh in 2009?
GJ: The same player physically, but mentally no. I was a lot different. I was more relaxed, more confident, more knowing what to do. I just trusted in myself and my abilities and didn’t put too much pressure on myself. I just concentrated on having more fun and playing the game of baseball.
DL: You can’t just flip a switch and begin thinking differently, so what allowed you to make that mental adjustment?
GJ: I think it just took time, over the years, to learn to stay relaxed and not dwell on the failure parts of the game and get frustrated. A lot of it was finally figuring out that sometimes you just have to say, “Screw it” when you have a bad game and go out and get them the next day and not worry about those other parts that come with baseball. You need to just play the game and let the numbers, and everything else, take care of themselves.
DL: How different are the Minnesota and Pittsburgh organizations?
GJ: Not too different. They’re both great organizations and I’ve enjoyed both of them very well. Both have great coaching staffs throughout the minor leagues and big leagues, and are both very easy teams to play for — they’re kind of relaxed teams.
DL: You started your career with the Braves before moving on to the Twins. With Minnesota’s player-development reputation in mind, did you notice a difference there?
GJ: Well, I wasn’t with the Braves too long, but yeah, definitely. When I got with the Twins, Terry Ryan, the general manager at the time, was very approachable. He came to all the minor-league teams and I remember him being a great guy and very supportive. He was just very welcoming, saying “You have a chance here.” You just felt like you belonged to the team. They make you feel like you belong.
DL: Did Neal Huntington make you feel welcome when you came to Pittsburgh?
GJ: Oh, definitely, and they obviously gave me the opportunity with the big-league club. I did well at Triple-A, got the call up, and did well. I was getting that opportunity every day, to play, and they told me I’d get that opportunity. So, it’s getting that chance and now, again this year, I should get a chance to play every day. It means a lot.
DL: How do you identify yourself as a hitter?
GJ: For me to be successful, I have to think of myself as a line-drive hitter. I can’t think home runs, I have to just hit line drives, take it to all fields, and let the home runs come. Basically, not thinking home runs, as a hitter, is something I need to do to be successful.
DL: How satisfied are you with your plate discipline?
GJ: I think that I definitely improved my plate discipline last year, starting to draw more walks and be more patient. It’s something that I’ve improved upon every year and I’m going to try to keep improving on all of the numbers and keep working on all aspects of the game.