Adam Jones

Adam Jones looks on during a game at Camden Yards. (Patrick McDermott, Getty Images / April 26, 2012)

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.

"Really?"

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."

Bouncing around

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.