In the relaxed atmosphere of spring training, the Orioles' locker room in Sarasota seems less pro athlete man cave than after-school rec center. Their workout over for the day by early afternoon, the players seem in no particular rush to head home. Jake Arrieta wheels in the bike he rides to and from the stadium every day; Nick Markakis carries in his 9-month-old son, quickly borrowed by Brian Roberts for a knee bounce, a cell phone picture and the answer to that mathematical question: What does cuteness squared look like?
From his corner piece of real estate, Adam Jones is yelling across the locker room to show Jeremy Guthrie something on his cell phone. Then, he's scrolling on his iPad, muttering under his breath as he flicks impatiently through pages of e-mails, Twitter feeds and his other digital connections to the outside world.
"I hate technology," he declares, unlikely as that may seem coming from one of the team's most avid online travelers. "That, and driving through Sarasota traffic. But it's necessary."
At 25, Jones comes off as a guy in a hurry. Nowhere, though, is that urgency more palpable than when it comes to the 2011 baseball season, one that arrives with great expectations for Jones personally and the team as a whole.
In the predicting/hoping mode that fuels spring training, the line on the talented centerfielder is that he is poised for a breakout year, and that the team, boosted by some key acquisitions over the winter, could finally turn around its demoralizing, 13-year string of losing seasons.
"On paper, it looks good," he says cautiously. "We've got an exciting team. We've got speed and power — that's enough right there. We've never had both at the same time."
But first things first on this sunny Florida spring day: a post-workout lunch, and yet another surprising declaration from the self-described "unpredictable" Jones.
"I feel like some Amish food," he says.
In his sleek black sedan with tinted windows, Jones makes his way from the Orioles' training facility to Yoder's restaurant in a nearby enclave of tricycle-riding Amish and Mennonites. Wearing black diamond earrings, dark sunglasses, jeans and a South Beach-logo'd shirt, he stands out amid the plain people, the bearded men and aproned women, but to no discernible discomfort on anyone's part. Everyone's attention instead is focused on the giant plates of deliciousness in front of them, or perhaps on trying to decide which of the famous pies to have for dessert. Jones orders that Amish specialty, a BLT, extra bacon, and a side order of mac and cheese.
"I smash bacon," Jones says, adding that it's one of two foods — eggs being the other — that he always has in his refrigerator. "You can never make it wrong. It's always good."
Jones has a relaxed, everything-is-cool California way about him, befitting his childhood in San Diego as "the baby" of two brothers and two sisters. He has random opinions and observations on just about everything from blue jeans (MEKs are better than True Religion) to fans at Camden Yards (they need to shout down those Yankee and Red Sox interlopers).
He still prefers what he calls the "fresher" West Coast to the East, and returns there in the off-season, but after three seasons with the O's he's developed some local ties. His girlfriend is Audie Fugett, a basketball player during her years at Roland Park Country School, and the daughter of Jean Fugett, the former NFL player who took over Beatrice International Foods, the largest black-owned business in the country at the time, after the death in 1993 of his brother, Reginald Lewis. She is currently a law student in New York.
Even before joining the Orioles in 2008, though, Baltimore was guaranteed a place in Jones' memory bank: It was here that the then-Seattle Mariner turned 21, striking out twice in a losing effort against his future team. But it wasn't a total loss, at least for one Baltimorean.
"I bought a homeless person a six-pack at one in the morning," Jones recalls of how he commemorated his first day of being able to buy booze legally.
These days, you're likely to see him at Sabatino's in Little Italy or, especially after games, Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill.
While he generally uses the off-season to clear his head and "do nothing 24 hours a day," Jones had a busy winter. He traveled to Amsterdam, to participate in a teammate's baseball clinic, and Paris; played a superhero in a Nike commercial with Ken Griffey Jr., in Atlanta and attended the O's Fanfest in Baltimore.
You may know all that already if you're one of the more than 11,000 followers of his Twitter account, now called SimplyAJ10, in which Jones provides a running commentary on whatever is crossing his mind — as well as the occasional photo, such as one of a pristinely snow-blanketed Camden Yards in January that he took from the Warehouse while he was being photographed for this story.
His tweets have slowed a bit as spring training has gotten under way, but Jones enjoys the interaction. He asks for recommendations for everything from barbers to places to stay, occasionally gets into fights with trolling "haters" and recently even issued an open invitation to anyone who wanted to come Jet Ski with him on an off day. (No one showed up; most of his followers were in Baltimore or other places far from Sarasota.)
His delight in getting back to baseball is palpable. "Everyone has basically left the clubhouse but I seem to just stay," he tweeted one day. "Already hit, ran, threw and lifted. Just can't leave."
Jones is eager for the season to start, and playing on a team that should be much more competitive than those of his previous three years here. While he still can come off as a kid — those big pink bubblegum bubbles he blows during games have something to do with that — he arrived at training camp looking much more mature.
"He's starting to come into his man strength," observes teammate Luke Scott. "I think he's going to hit more home runs this year."
For all his successes with the Orioles, particularly in 2009 when he was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner, there are those who think Jones hasn't yet lived up to his abilities. As one website for fantasy baseball asks about him: "Solidly above average or a potential superstar?"
Stay tuned for the answer this year, says Mark McLemore, the former Oriole who is a friend and mentor to Jones, having gone to the same high school in San Diego about 20 years earlier.
"Hold on to your seats and watch him," McLemore says. "I expect a big year from him."
McLemore, who does a pre- and post-game Texas Rangers show for a Dallas/Fort Worth TV station, first met "this little skinny kid" in 2003, when Jones was drafted out of high school by the Seattle Mariners. Jones was just 17, so young his mother had to sign his first contract. An English teacher who had taught both athletes called McLemore, asking him to look out for his fellow alum as he made his way in pro ball. They still talk frequently — about the game, but also about what Jones wants McLemore's wife to make him for dinner when the Orioles are in town to play the Rangers.
Jones grew up playing several sports but mostly was interested in basketball and football — still his favorite sport, but one his mother couldn't bear watching him play.
"She didn't want her baby to get hurt — those are her words," he says with an oh-Mom look. "I never thought about baseball as a kid. I thought it was the longest, boring-est game."
Now, he gets his football fix playing the Madden game during the off-season and following the NFL. His favorite team — sorry, Baltimore — is the Indianapolis Colts, having become a Peyton Manning fan when the quarterback was playing for the University of Tennessee.
His mother, Andrea Bradley, still looks out for him. She's been known to respond on her Facebook page and elsewhere online to any perceived attacks on her son, such as when he was detained at the Toronto airport during a road trip.
"I see my child out there, and I remember him from t-ball and all the years in between," Bradley says. "I'm very emotional."
Her protective nature goes back a long way, to when Bradley was raising her kids in a tough neighborhood in southeast San Diego. Bradley said she worked her contacts in the neighborhood, and let it be known that no one should mess with her kids.
Bradley married her husband Kenneth, a Greyhound bus driver, when Adam was 4. She'll travel to see him play several times a season, but not as much as before now that rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments require that she use a scooter. (Adam gave her a new orange-and-black one this Christmas.) This will be the first Opening Day she has missed, but she's hosting a game-watching party at home.
While Jones has friends on the team and throughout baseball — he's pals with O's utility infielder Robert Andino — he remains close to friends from his childhood as well. He sounds proud to note that despite his professional success, he remains a good friend.
"They say I'm still the same [jerk] I've always been," Jones says. "I'm normal — just my job is cool."
Correction: March 25, 2011
An earlier version of this story misstated Oriole's utility infielder Robert Andino's relationship status. He is married.