They took their baseball gear to the field down the road, set up and Derek Jones watched as Christian swung, smacked the ball and smiled with how far it flew.
This was a football field and Christian Jones, now a senior at Federal Way High School, was about 3 years old. But his father recalls fondly the jubilation Christian found in hitting a ball off a tee, and watching it roll and roll on the stadium turf.
That turned into hitting Wiffle balls with a plastic bat in the backyard of their apartment complex, which later turned into far more athletic endeavors — not just baseball, but basketball, football, Olympic weightlifting, competitive swimming and throwing shot put.
This past summer, Jones awed at the Area Code games in Long Beach, California, with 21 homers in a home run derby.
These days, it’s not just his father who is watching him.
“He’s got power that’s uncommon in high school baseball,” said first-year Federal Way hitting coach Ron Sherwin, who is a former scout for the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays. “He doesn’t have to overpower the ball. His swing is just effortless.”
Said Decatur coach Korey Sites: “One of the most explosive players I’ve ever played against. One mistake can change the game.”
Jones has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Washington. But he has a chance to be picked in the MLB draft in June — he’s considered the No. 78 high school prospect in the nation by Baseball America.
He’s got power that’s uncommon in high school baseball. He doesn’t have to overpower the ball. His swing is just effortless.
Ron Sherwin, Federal Way hitting coach
After each of Federal Way’s first two games — against Tahoma and Curtis — major league scouts asked Jones to stay late and hit more balls while they shagged for him.
“People have their phones out and taking photos and videos — it’s crazy,” said first-year Federal Way coach Arlo Evasick, a former four-year starter at Chimacum who earned the 1A state most valuable player in 2007, won a state title and went on to pitch at Seattle University.
“But you would not know all of this goes on,” Sherwin added. “He’s (Jones) the most unpretentious kid I’ve been around. This is how you want kids to carry themselves.”
Jones, who bats left-handed, said he has struggled to get going the past two years during high school baseball season — though he hit .346 with two homers in 20 games last year.
It hasn’t helped that he’s missed the first week of practices each year. He was busy starting on Federal Way’s back-to-back 4A state championship basketball teams. He had 18 points and 12 rebounds in last month’s title game against Kentwood.
Jones played AAU basketball with Seattle’s Rotary until the summer heading into his sophomore year. He stopped to focus on baseball.
His father recalled Jones as a hard-hitting linebacker and running back in football. He stopped playing that after the eighth grade.
“The first thing I picked up when I was younger was baseball. It was always baseball and then basketball until I started liking basketball more,” said Jones, who combines his athleticism with a 3.8 grade-point average. “But baseball then grew back on me. I was like, ‘I could be really good at this.’
“For the most part, I think people considered me a baseball player playing basketball. But toward the end of the year I think people were seeing me as a baseball player and basketball. That’s what I want to be known for. I want to feel like I made an impact some way, somehow, in anything I did.”
Jones was introduced to Olympic weightlifting when he was 10. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound first baseman and outfielder said he’s squatted 440 pounds, benched 250 and power-cleaned 240.
He’s conditioned with yoga and swimming. And he’s picky about his food — he said he most enjoys calamari, fish, shrimp and scallops.
Consider all the baseball he’s grown up with — and he’s never eaten a hot dog. Nor a hamburger.
“He’s never had a hamburger in his entire life. Never,” said Derek Jones, who played baseball at Central Catholic high school in Portland.
We went to Dick’s (last Sunday) after the Husky (baseball) game and he gets fries and a milkshake. He just has no interest in hamburgers, not really even sandwiches.
Derek Jones, Christian Jones’ father
Right after the Area Code games this past offseason, Christian Jones headed to Chicago for the Under Armour All-America Game. He got to play at Wrigley Field and roomed with Bo Bichette, the son of four-time MLB All-Star Dante Bichette.
Jones said he worked on his swing, and on drawing more power from his core and less from his upper body, this past offseason with former major leaguer Jason Ellison, who graduated from South Kitsap High School. And this season, more than any before, he worked on hitting even during the basketball season.
“I don’t think I knew how good I could be until I went to the Area Code games and competed and realized I was one of the better kids out there,” Jones said. “It helped me realize what I can do and how high my ceiling can be. And I think it’s pretty high.”
All that success in basketball has him wanting the same for Federal Way’s baseball team. The program’s lone state title came in 2001.
He brings a lot of presence. When you see one of your better players working as hard as he does, the next guy is going to work that much harder. I think that’s more important than having a guy who is going to hit 15 home runs.
Arlo Evasick, first-year Federal Way coach
As far as whether Jones will go to UW or sign after the draft, he said he won’t decide that anytime soon. Not while he has a final high school season to enjoy.
“When the time comes, my family and my adviser and I will sit down and talk about all of that,” Jones said. “But I’m embracing it all for now. It’s pretty cool to have scouts at our games, and just having them watch is something I’ll tell my kids down the line and my grandkids.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; @TJCotterill
High school baseball primer
TEAM TO BEAT
Puyallup coach Marc Wiese will surpass 400 career wins if his team replicates the 18 wins it had last season. Not hard to imagine considering that UW commit Christopher Micheles is back after going 7-0 with a 0.85 ERA last year. So is Xavier commit Riley Pletcher and a pair of all-state middle infielders who transferred in — Collin Wolf from Sumner and Gonzaga commit Michael Spellacy from Battle Ground.
4A Narrows — Gig Harbor.
3A Narrows — Central Kitsap.
4A SPSL Northwest — Federal Way.
4A SPSL Northeast — Kentwood.
4A SPSL South — Puyallup.
3A SPSL — Bonney Lake.
2A SPSL — Fife.
2A Evergreen — Centralia.
1A Nisqually — Vashon Island.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Troy Johnston, OF, Rogers, sr.: Is he finally a senior? Has 83 hits in 170 at-bats (.488 average) in three years as the 4A SPSL South’s three-time batting champ. Signed with Gonzaga.
Christian Jones, 1B/OF, Federal Way, sr.: Top prospect in the state and No. 78 high school prospect in the nation, according to Baseball America. Hit .346 last year. Signed with Washington.
Jordan Jones, P, Kentwood, sr.: Hides pitches so well and locates his off-speed pitches. Went 8-0 with 1.55 ERA last season, earning 4A first-team all-state. Signed with Washington.
Tanner Knapp, P/INF, Fife, sr.: Like stats? Led South Sound with eight HRs and 46 RBIs, hitting .456. Was 10-0 as a pitcher with 0.47 ERA and 83 Ks in 60 innings. Signed with Seattle U.
Michael Toglia, OF/P, Gig Harbor, sr.: Switch hitter coveted for bat, but will double as Tides’ ace pitcher this year. Hit .333, with team-best 14 extra-base hits. Signed with UCLA.
BEST OF THE REST
4A Narrows: C Jon Burghardt, Gig Harbor, sr.; UTIL Brock Gagliardi, Bellarmine Prep, jr.; C Alex Garcia, South Kitsap, soph.; UTIL Austin Hackman, South Kitsap, sr.; P Ben Johnson, Bellarmine Prep, sr.; P/1B Indigo Keeslar, Yelm, sr.; P/3B Colton Robinson, Gig Harbor, sr.; 2B Braden Schmunk, Stadium, sr.
3A Narrows: OF Aki Buckson, Central Kitsap, sr.; SS Mitchell Dooley, Capital, sr.; P/C Austin Eisenmenger, Foss, sr.; SS Trevor Gregory, Shelton, sr.; P Mack Larson, Wilson, sr.; MI Noah Murski, North Thurston, sr.; P Brent Smotherman, Shelton, sr.; OF Kendal Yeagle, Central Kitsap, sr.
4A SPSL Northeast: CI Matt Flemming, Kentridge, sr. (torn labrum); C Shane McGuire, Kentwood, jr.; MI Matt Mollenberg, Kentlake, sr.; P/INF Ben Wadowski, Kentwood, sr.; UTIL Ben Woods, Kent-Meridian, jr.
4A SPSL Northwest: P/MI JJ Asinas, Todd Beamer, sr.; OF Tyson Sonnenfeld, Thomas Jefferson, sr.; OF Tyler Swanson, Decatur, sr.
4A SPSL South: P/CI Sammy Abbott, Curtis, jr.; DH Brandon Becker, Graham-Kapowsin, jr.; P Christopher Micheles, Puyallup, sr.; P/1B Nathan Packard, Emerald Ridge, sr.; MI Michael Spellacy, Puyallup, jr.; MI Collin Wolf, Puyallup, sr.
3A SPSL: P/CI Dylan Davis, Auburn Riverside, sr.; SS/OF Josiah Fidecaro, Sumner, sr.; SS Matthew Gretler, Bonney Lake, soph.; 3B/P Nathan Harrell, Sumner, sr.; P/CI/OF Garrett Miller, Auburn Riverside, jr.; OF/P Dillon O’Grady, Auburn, sr.; 3B Robby Pogue, Bonney Lake, jr.; P Jimmy Ritchie, Peninsula, sr.
2A SPSL: 3B/P Kyle Bastrom, Washington, jr.; P Tanner Broom, Fife, sr.; OF Jaden Hassell, Fife, sr.; C Riley Johnson, White River, sr.; OF Darian Lambert, Orting, sr.
Others: P/INF Henry Cheney, Charles Wright, sr.; P/SS Tyler Fox, Cascade Christian, jr.; P Logan Hawkins, Vashon Island, sr.; P/3B Josiah Heimlich, Evergreen Lutheran, soph.; UTIL Connor Kuykendall, Life Christian, jr.; CI Brooks Moeller, Eatonville, jr.; OF Sam Schoenberg, Vashon Island, sr.