Steve Ruiz recalls it clearly, shopping in a sporting goods store with his son, Jett, and another 13-year-old who played on Jett's baseball team.
Jett rushed down the aisles, handling the bats and gloves. But his friend hung back.
Ruiz approached the youngster.
"Get whatever you need, Adam," Ruiz said.
Adam Jones' eyes grew wide. His choices that day were practical ones — a jockstrap and cup.
Clutching his purchases, Jones turned to his benefactor.
"I'm gonna pay you back, Mr. Ruiz," he said. "I'm gonna be in the major leagues someday."
Thirteen years later, Steve Ruiz can still hear the conviction in Jones' voice.
"He was so insistent, so sure of himself," he said. "I remember saying, 'Good for you, Adam.' I remember thinking, 'Gosh, I believe him.' "
On Tuesday, Jones — who leads the Orioles in hitting, home runs and RBIs – will suit up for his second All-Star Game. At 26, and entering his prime, he's a cornerstone of the club's rebuilding plans. In May, he signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension, making Jones, who grew up poor in San Diego, the second highest-paid center fielder in the big leagues and the richest Oriole ever.
The one who used to wear baggy hand-me-downs, and borrowed clothes, now models menswear for a national designer. The one who could never afford one car now owns three. And while those who know him say that, from the start, Jones was mischievous, fanatically competitive and freewheeling, he has grown into a celebrated athlete who remembers those who helped him reach the top.
There was the English teacher who mentored him in high school; the families who took him in as their own; and even the inner-city street gangs, who gave Jones wide berth once his prospects to break out of the hood became obvious.
"No one gets anywhere by themselves," Jones said this week. "I count my blessings. I know where I want to go, but I'll never forget where I came from.
"Would I have made it without help? I don't know. But I'm glad that my story is the way it is — and it's a good story to tell."
Jones was raised in southeast San Diego, in a dreary neighborhood beset by violence and drugs. The youngest of five children, he spoke briefly about his relationship with his mom, Andrea Bradley, whom he shields from the media.
"Moms is moms," Jones said cryptically. "She cared about my grades, but didn't come to many games."
Efforts to reach Bradley, who suffers from arthritis and diabetes and who lives in Phoenix, where Jones bought her a home, were unsuccessful.
Nor does Jones mention his biological father, or even his name, except to say that he lives in Los Angeles and spent 22 years in the Navy.
"I didn't grow up with him on a day-to-day basis, but he has been more than a shadow in my life," he said. "I know that he's proud of me."
His was a transient youth.
"Mostly, Adam looked out for himself," said his cousin, Adrian Limbrick. "As a kid, he sold candy, door to door, to make money to buy lunch at school."
Growing up, Jones sometimes stayed with Limbrick, or his grandmother, his brother or his best friend, Quintin Berry, now an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers. High school teammates, Jones and Berry shared a bedroom, where they played video games and talked long into the night of baseball, girls, baseball, life and, well, baseball.
Those times gave Jones a familial stability that he cherished, said Rhonda Berry, Quintin's mother.
"Even now, when he comes for a visit, Adam will bring people by, show them around our modest house, then point with pride and say, 'This is my room.' You can tell he feels at home here," she said.
Jones was 12 before he gave baseball his all. Little League wasn't his thing.
"The game is still boring as hell," he said. "But I found it intriguing. There's a mental toughness to the sport that goes beyond all others."
His family saw signs of Jones' promise, said his step-brother, Tommie Wright.
"We were walking to the local Boys' Club one day when Adam, maybe 11, picked up a rock and chucked it as far as he could," Wright said. "That rock sailed over quite a few row houses before it went through someone's window. He threw it so far that we never heard the window crash."
The owner of the broken glass eventually chased the boys down, and Jones had to tell his family what he'd done.
"Adam got quite the spanking for it," Wright said, "but that was an early sign of what was to come."
Soon after, Jones tried out for a San Diego travel team, the Redwings, who announced they'd found their right-handed pitcher.
"He was the definition of raw talent," said Jett Ruiz, the team's catcher. "Adam had a fastball," which would hit 96 mph in high school "a slider and breaking balls that sank all over the place. Then he started switch-hitting. What a tremendous freak of an athlete. He didn't really know what he was doing. He was just out there having fun."
The boys hit it off — and Jones found himself being adopted again. For four years, he spent weekends during travel team season with the Ruiz family in well-heeled suburban Lakeside. He slept in Jett's room, helped with household chores and even wore Jett's clothes.
"Adam was a good kid who didn't have much," said Debbie Ruiz, Jett's mother. "Doing his laundry used to break my heart. He was appreciative of you buying him a soda."
The Ruiz family did that, and more. They bought Jones' gear — including a $300 Mizuno glove, which he still has — and helped him financially through high school. Come prom time, they paid for his tuxedo, corsage and senior picture.
Jones was grateful. In 2003, when the Seattle Mariners made him their No. 1 draft pick, he chose to sign his contract at the Ruiz's dining room table. Now, with his mega-salary and endorsements, he no longer borrows his friend's clothes. The shoe is on the other foot.
"Every year, before he goes to spring training, Adam lets me take a shopping spree in his closet," said Jett Ruiz, a mortgage broker. "Then he gives me the keys to his Mercedes and says, 'Go ahead and drive it while I'm gone.'
"If he'd just attach me to his credit card account, I'd be all set."
The payback goes on.
"I'm trying to think of a cool gift for Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz," Jones said. "Maybe a week's vacation somewhere."
Baseball as a way out
Yet family and friends say that Jones could try the patience of those around him.
"He was quite a prankster, as a kid," Wright said. "He'd put smelly things — I won't say what — under your nose, while you slept. And he'd roll his finger over a deodorant bar and then, when you weren't looking, smear it around the rim of your soda can."
Jones has "always been goofy, always tried to have fun," Quintin Berry said. "In high school, we'd fill a kid's backpack with dirt, or egg each others' cars. Adam didn't have a car, so we'd egg him, instead."
Another time, Jones and Jett Ruiz drove to Mission Beach, where they crept close to the boardwalk and hurled eggs at passersby.
"It wasn't my idea," Ruiz confessed.
Jones called it "all part of the growing process," but added, "It's a good thing I was under 18 when I did all of those things."
Most of the high-jinks were wholesome fun. The Berrys lived beside Webster Elementary where, even as teens, Jones and his friends played hide-and-seek at night. Later, they'd go to Quintin's room, douse the lights, strip to the waist and pummel each other with licorice whips. Exhausted, they'd collapse, but try not to doze off because the first to do so got tattooed with a Sharpie and had whipped cream stuck up his nose.
It was better than wearing gang colors.
"Our lives were not easy," Berry said. "Our neighborhood was a high gang-oriented place. We've seen seven of our friends buried in our lifetime because of violence. For a while, every off-season we'd come home to a funeral.
"But I had a couple of really close friends, high up in gangs, and they made sure nobody came to recruit me and Adam. They left us alone because they knew what we wanted to accomplish with our lives — and it was good for them to see somebody trying to make it."
Jones still goes back to his old neighborhood, still sees the same faces.
"That wasn't our niche," he said. "Now, when I see those guys, they say, 'It's awesome that you made it. You're living everybody's dream.'"
From the moment he found baseball, Jones embraced it.
"When he stayed with me, I'd find him in my room, watching reruns of old [San Diego] Padresgames on TV," said Limbrick, his cousin. "He'd seen them so many times, he knew what pitches were coming and what the announcer would say. Adam would sit on my bed, in his game mode, dissecting each play, pounding a ball into his glove, eating sunflower seeds and spitting out the shells, just like in the dugout."
Self-confidence? Jones had it to spare.
"I was walking the halls, between classes, when this skinny sophomore came over and said, 'I'm gonna be your No. 1 pitcher, coach — and your best player,'" said Matt Cleek, then baseball coach at Samuel Morse High. "Adam was cocky, and I liked that."
Jones' schoolboy feats, as pitcher and shortstop, are the stuff of legend. In a game at Chula Vista, he hit a tape-measure home run for Morse before a bevy of scouts.
"It was a monster shot to left field that hit the top of a three-story factory building," teammate Eric Billings said. "At Crawford High, Adam chose to bat left-handed one day and hit the first pitch for a homer. We're sitting on the bench, thinking, 'Really? Did that just happen?'"
As a senior, Jones hit .406, split six decisions and pitched to a 2.71 ERA, while leading Morse (20-10), a school with patchwork facilities, to the 2003 California state semifinals.
He played on a diamond where the backstop was squished up behind home plate, rattlesnakes slithered out of the tall grass, and a fence circled only one-third of the outfield.
"A base hit that rolled under a car in the parking lot, past center field, was still in play," Berry said. "We learned to climb over trunks and hoods."
During practice, Jones — ever the jokester — took advantage of the hard, lumpy infield to vex his teammates.
"He'd field a ball at shortstop and then whip it as hard as he could to me at first base, submarine-style, short-hopping his 95 miles-per-hour throws," said Bruce Billings, Eric's brother, and a pitcher in theOakland A'sorganization. "He was just goofing around, but I got really good at picking the ball up."
Come game time, the mischief ceased. Jones was "the ultimate competitor," Bruce Billings said. "Off the field, he was a clown, but on it, he had to be the best player in the game, every day. He made us all mentally tougher because he expected everyone to perform at his level. He really raised the bar."
Once, his coach said, Jones carried the revelry too far.
"His senior year, Adam made a smart-aleck comment to a teacher, it got back to me, and we left him behind for an away game at San Diego High," Cleek said. "We won the game and, the next day, there was Adam, messing around again in practice.
"Two players turned to him and said, 'You know, we can win without you.' Well, Adam kind of put his head down, and I could see the wheels turning. He got this look, like, 'I'm going to show how good I can be.' Instead of being silly, he got serious — and he pretty much carried us the rest of the year."
After his junior year, Jones could have transferred to Mission Bay, a magnet school in San Diego whose star player, shortstop Matt Bush, would be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft.
"Adam told the coach there that if he went to Mission Bay, of course he'd play shortstop and Bush would shift to second base," Cleek said. "The coach said, 'No, it's the other way around.' So Adam stayed at Morse."
Brash as he seemed, Jones always deferred to his mother. Once, during a contest at Kearny High, Andrea Bradley arrived in mid-game and pulled her son off the field. In the fifth inning.
"She was upset and screaming for him, 'It's time to go,'" Cleek said. "So Adam went. I never asked why."
Jones' teammates "couldn't believe it was really happening," Bruce Billings said. "It was embarrassing for me, let alone for Adam. But he loved his mom, so he wasn't going to deny her, in front of a crowd."
'He'll be driving the bus'
On June 3, 2003, the Mariners called Jones, then 17, during fourth-period government class, to say he was their No.1 draft pick.
"When his phone rang, Adam raised his hand and asked, 'Can I answer it?'" his teacher, Paul Abrahamson, recalled. "I'd been sitting at my desk, watching the draft online, so I nodded. He left the room, took the call and came back in with the news — and everyone cheered."
Twice before, Morse had sent players to the majors — Sam Horn and Mark McLemore, both of whom played for the Orioles. Jones' favorite teacher, Patricia Oyeshiku, had also taught and stayed in contact with McLemore who, in 2003, played for Seattle. It was too much for Jones to bear. He rushed into world literature class and cried, "Mrs. O! Mrs. O! You've got to call Mark McLemore right now!"
"I told Mark that this wonderful young man had been drafted by the Mariners, and that Mark should take care of him, because Adam was worth it," Oyeshiku said.
How could McLemore refuse?
"I told Adam he had an open line to me, for advice, and he asked me question after question about the mentality of the game and how he should handle situations on and off the field," said McLemore, now a TV analyst for the Texas Rangers. "So many guys come into this game, thinking they know it all. Adam was refreshing."
Said Jones: "That's just my nature. If I knew it all, I'd be an astrophysicist."
When the Orioles traded for Jones in 2008, he called McLemore to ask about the ballpark, the people and the team's plans for him. They still chat every week. And while Jones' off-the-field persona still sometimes overshadows his emergence as a premier player — Orioles fans know him for his penchant to blow bubbles with his chewing gum, his relentless use of Twitter and as the guy with the shaving-cream pie whenever a post-game television interview is interrupted — those who've watched him since his high school days see his star rising.
"Adam isn't a household name yet, because the Orioles haven't won," McLemore said. "But they're coming, and he'll be driving the bus."
And what of Mrs. O, who'd introduced the pair? Routinely, when he returns to San Diego, Jones treats his former teacher and her husband to dinner. He takes her autographed bats and balls for fundraisers and charity events. Last year, he presented her with a replica of his Orioles jersey on which he'd written, Mrs. O – I listened more in class than you thought.
Two months ago, when Jones signed his record contract, he received a text message from Oyeshiku.
I'm so proud of you, she wrote.
Yeah, but I still have a lot of work to do.
Born Aug. 1, 1985 in San Diego
Drafted in the 1st round, 37th overall, by the Seattle Mariners in 2003
Traded by the Mariners with Tony Butler, Kameron Mickolio, George Sherrill and Chris Tillman to the Orioles for Erik Bedard on Feb. 8, 2008.
6 foot, 3 inches; 225 pounds
Bats: Right handed Throws: Right handed
All-Star selection, 2009 and 2012
Gold Glove, 2009
Career stats (7 seasons)GPRH2B3BHRRBISBAVG.706364712118209533555.278Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times