Ohio National Guard News


Ohio's top NCO plays America's favorite pastime... part-time

By Bill Pierce, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

Command Sgt. Major Rodger Jones waits for the next pitch while in his catcher’s crouch during a game against the Mariners at Westerville North High School’s Bernowski Field in Westerville, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Candy Jones)

Command Sgt. Major Rodger Jones attempts to throw a runner out trying to steal third base during a game against the Reds at the Reynoldsburg Varsity Baseball Field in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
(Photo courtesy of Candy Jones)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (12/10/14) — As one of America’s favorite pastimes, baseball has kept our attention from when we were young enough to understand what a bat and ball were, to whenever it was when we got older and decided to hang it up. But some people choose to never hang it up. For Command Sgt. Maj. Rodger Jones, the Ohio Army National Guard state command sergeant major, hanging it up was never really an option.

Jones has played baseball since the third grade but took a break when his son began to play. “I told myself I would retire from playing when my son was old enough so I ended up coaching him from T-ball through pony league.” After his son broke his wrist in a skateboard accident his first year of pony league, Jones began thinking about getting back behind the plate at catcher. His son was out for just one season, but by that time, Jones found himself embedded back into the sport.

Jones began looking for adult baseball leagues so he could continue to play the sport he loved. After a lot of investigation, he joined the National Adult Baseball Association (NABA) and the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL) in 2011, and never looked back.

In the NABA, Jones plays in the 35-and-over league for a local team called the Columbus Padres. They play at different high school fields all over Central Ohio — from Briggs High School on the south side, to Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome on the northwest side, to Olentangy Orange High School on the north side. The Padres have even played a couple games at The Ohio State University’s Bill Davis Stadium.

Jones said even though he belongs to the 35-and-over league, his team likes to play as much as possible, so they often play against teams in the 35-and-under leagues.

“To watch some of those 21-year-olds who played in college and to see how quickly they react... it’s amazing to watch,” Jones said. “I had one game where I absolutely crushed the ball to left field. No one in my league would have gotten to it and here this kid runs all the way back and catches it. Then, my second at bat, I smoked a line drive down the third base line and this kid stretches out and dives for it, making the catch while robbing me of my second hit. If I were to hit those in my regular league, I would have easily had two doubles.”

In the MSBL, Jones, 51, takes part in the league’s World Series tournament play, in the 50-and-over division as a San Francisco Giant. This past summer, he played with them in Las Vegas, where during his first at bat, he hit a home run on the first pitch. They also played in Phoenix, where he played six games in four days and caught all six games. Unfortunately, during both tournaments, his Giants did not fare as well as Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, who won the 2014 World Series in October.

The MSBL World Series tournaments take place every year in cities across the country. Often, teams get to play in major league facilities — Jones’ team played two of their games in two different major league stadiums, and their other four games were played on major league practice fields. “Being able to play in major league stadiums was very cool,” Jones said. “We played in both the Reds-Indians’ spring training stadium and the Los Angeles Angels’ stadium.”

While catching and pitching are at a premium because those are the two most difficult positions to play, Jones said what he has learned in the Army has helped him “bull through” when playing. “It’s very hot playing in Phoenix. Every game during the day, we are playing in 95 degrees with 90 percent humidity,” Jones said. “That takes a toll on your body at any age.”

Often when he would play in a tournament, his coach would ask if he could play any other positions. “I told them I’m just a catcher,” Jones said. “However, if we get in a bind, I can play first base. But my favorite position is catcher. I like leading the team.”

Asked how he became a catcher, Jones sat back and rattled off the names of famous catchers from his younger years. “There were so many great catchers,” Jones said. “There was Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher that ever lived, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Bill Freehan and Bob Boone.” Jones said he used to watch them on television as much as he could. When he did, he would always see them on the field talking to the team, adjusting their positions where they stood, letting them know how many outs there were and putting the signs on, much like a senior noncommissioned officer might do with his Soldiers.

His wife Candy is his No. 1 supporter. “I like to attend all the Columbus games and I even travel with him when he plays tournaments out west,” Candy said. “Our goal is that once he retires from the military, we will move out to Phoenix and he will play in the 35-and-over, 40-and-over, 45-and-over, 50- and 55-and-over leagues. He really loves the game, and I love to watch him play.”

Serving more than 33 years with the U.S. Army in a variety of leadership positions from scout to command sergeant major, one would think that Jones’ Army experience helped him excel in his role as leader of the team. “To tell you the truth, it was probably the other way around because I was a catcher long before I was a Soldier, and my dad and coach taught me that as the catcher, you set the infield, talk to the pitcher and you have to run the team on the field. That’s why I think Soldiering came so natural to me,” Jones said.

Editor’s Note:
Jones serves as the principal enlisted advisor to the Ohio assistant adjutant general for Army. He oversees training and all matters concerning the more than 11,000 enlisted Soldiers of the Ohio Army National Guard and their Families.