Shortstop Overcomes Long Odds

:  Texas Christian University shortstop Keaton Jones competes Tuesday in the 2014 College World Series in Omaha, Neb Photo by Mark Clements
Texas Christian University shortstop Keaton Jones competes Tuesday in the 2014 College World Series in Omaha, Neb
Photo by Mark Clements

Former Laguna Beach High School senior Keaton Jones struck out a career high 12 batters as well as scoring the winning run against Costa Mesa on May 3, 2011, to clinch the first league title in the program’s 48-year history.

Jones, now a junior shortstop at Texas Christian University, led his team with three hits May 24 as the Horned Frogs beat Oklahoma State to capture their first Big 12 championship in only the second season since TCU joined the powerhouse conference.

On the eve of his team’s departure for Omaha, Neb, the site of the College World Series, Jones was still trying to put the last three years in perspective. “It’s kind of unreal right now,” he said in an interview last week.

Things got very real for Jones in the team’s CWS opener Sunday, June 15. With TCU trailing Texas Tech 2-1 in the eighth inning, Jones raced home on a throwing error to score the tying run. TCU Teammate Cody Jones scored the go-ahead run to cap a thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 victory.

With his parents cheering him on, Jones collected two hits and a walk in three trips to complete a perfect Father’s Day at the plate.

Jones didn’t fair as well Tuesday, June 17, going 0-5 at the plate as the Horned Frogs dropped a 3-2 decision to the Virginia Cavaliers, who scored on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th. TCU (1-1) was scheduled to play Ole Miss (1-1) on Thursday, June 19, with the winner advancing to the next round in the double-elimination tournament.

Jones, who also played shortstop for the Breakers, in 2011 was named Orange Coast League pitcher of the year and second-team all-CIF after finishing his senior season 7-0 with six saves in 13 appearances. That means every time he pitched, whether as a starter or in relief, Laguna won the game.

Jones’ exploits on the mound earned him an invite to show his stuff as a walk on at TCU, which had a stable of pitching talent at the time. Coach Jim Schlossnagle admits not knowing much about Jones prior to his arrival at the Fort Worth campus. “We knew him more as a pitcher than as an infielder,” said the coach via email, “so we weren’t thinking much about him contributing any time soon to our program.”

As it turned out, the players Schlossnagle recruited to play shortstop lacked consistency during fall training camp, so he decided to give the freshman a shot at one of the game’s most demanding positions.

It turned out to be a fateful decision, as Jones has become a fixture at short, starting 182 of 183 games over the past three seasons. “If Keaton wouldn’t have been here, we would’ve been lost at that position,” said Schlossnagle.

In his debut against Ole Miss, Jones went 2 for 3 with a double, an RBI and a run scored. He also had a career day against Manhattan, going 2-for-2 with a double, two runs, an RBI, three walks and three stolen bases. But games like those were more the exception than the rule, and he finished his freshman season with a .166 average.

Jones defensive skills were a given. The question was could he handle Division 1 pitching. “I’ve always thought I was a hitter,” he said. But at this level “it’s more about learning how to hit.”

Jones credits former Laguna Coach Jeff Sears with providing the guidance to maximize his abilities: discipline, hard work and taking care of the little things. And as tough as Sears was on his players, “He wasn’t even close to like how it is here,” said Jones.

Over the course of the next two seasons, plenty of live pitching, along with extra time in the weight room and the batting cages, has turned Jones into the hitter he knew he could be. Through the first game of the CWS, he was hitting .275, more than double his freshman average. “He’s truly a product of his effort and attitude,” said Schlossnagle.

With one more season to go and his team battling for a College World Series title, Jones is trying not to think about his life long dream of playing in the majors. “What ever happens, happens,” he said. “I’m just going to go where [God] takes me.”

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