Former Brewers first-round pick Jones retires

Former Brewers first-round pick Jones retires

Former Brewers first-round pick Jones retires
PHOENIX -- It was fitting that 17-month-old Mike Jones Jr. fussed in the background while dad, Mike Jones Sr., the former first-round pick whose path to the Major Leagues seemed perpetually blocked by injuries, discussed a future away from the diamond.

"I'm retiring from the game of baseball," Jones said via telephone from Boston, where his family has begun a new phase. "I gave it everything I had.

"There just wasn't much need out there for a 27-year-old broken-down, struggling Minor League pitcher -- former first-rounder or not."

So the 12th overall pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft will transition to a new role as Mr. Mom. Jones' wife is sports reporter and anchor Nicole Zaloumis, who used to cover the Mariners as part of her duties with FSN Northwest, but recently moved to Comcast Sports New England. She gave birth to Mike Jr. in September 2009, the day after Mike Sr. returned home from Triple-A Nashville.

Jones was back at Triple-A last June, and occasionally touching 93-94 mph -- though he stopped paying attention to the radar gun long ago -- when the Brewers released him to clear a needed roster spot. He returned home to Huntsville, Ala., and stayed in baseball shape for about a month-and-a-half. No one called.

So Jones took a break and began throwing again in October, hopeful that an organization would show interest. There wasn't any.

Around New Year's Day, Jones decided to call it quits. In parts of nine Minor League seasons, punctuated by major shoulder and elbow injuries, Jones was 31-32 with a 3.75 ERA.

"There are a lot of reasons to go, but the main reason is we've got a growing family now," said Jones, who will turn 28 in April. "My wife and I agreed that day care Monday through Friday is not the way we were raised, and it's not the way we would like to go about things.

"The way my career was going, I wasn't happy. I got tired of getting ready for the season and having it end in disappointment and frustration, which is the way at least the last three or four years have been. Yes, I had bright moments, and things to be encouraged about. But at the end of the day, I never bargained for three surgeries. I didn't want to be on the long road I was on for the last seven or eight years. The odds were stacked against me, and it seemed like all signs pointed to retirement, and moving on with my life."

In 2001, when the Brewers drafted the strapping, 6-foot-4 right-hander with a smooth delivery, they thought Jones could someday pitch atop a rotation with 1999 top pick Ben Sheets, who had just arrived in the Majors. They gave Jones $2.075 million to sign, and for 2 1/2 seasons he looked every bit the top pitching prospect.

Then came the injuries. He had major shoulder surgery in 2004 and missed all of 2005, then underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a bum right elbow in 2007. Six years passed between Jones' Double-A and Triple-A debuts.

He had a long heart-to-heart with longtime agent Matt Brown before finalizing his plan to retire. "I watched him go through rehab for basically the last five years straight, and mentally that was an unbelievably daunting task that he handled like the champion that he is," Brown said. "But I think that he's making the right choice, in that he feels like it's not the same after three surgeries.

"Mike's thing is that he doesn't want to hang on so he can get a cup of coffee [in the Majors] someday and he's 32, 33 years old. He said, 'Either I'm going to be an elite Major League prospect, or I'm going to move on.' ... He was either going to be an elite [pitcher], or go on to be elite at something else in life."

Jones began online classes through the University of Phoenix about a year and a half ago, and will continue pursuing a business degree at one of Boston's traditional universities. He said he'll pick a focus by his "junior season" -- that's the ballplayer talking -- and is targeting 2013 to complete his coursework.

He's open to the idea of someday working in a baseball front office, and expressed hearty thanks to the Brewers for standing by him so long, especially assistant general manager Gord Ash, who asked Jones to keep the team apprised of his future plans. Jones will stay in touch with Matt Krug, a sports psychologist who works for the club.

"Hopefully, the window is open to move into a business role in the game," Jones said.

But he's thrown his last pitch.

"I'm as disappointed as Milwaukee is in the way things turned out," Jones said. "It's clearly not their fault. They gave me every opportunity to play up to my potential, and I'm thankful for that. I don't have any hard feelings. Considering I was with them for 9 1/2 seasons, and only spent about 5 1/2 of those seasons on the field and healthy, not too many get that kind of opportunity.

"I gave it everything I had, and that's what makes walking away more settling. It's not easy, don't get me wrong. This is not something I wanted to do. But when I made my decision, it made sense.

"I'm not second-guessing anything. As much as I didn't achieve what I wanted to, I'm still walking away with a lot from the game of baseball, and I'm extremely thankful for that."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.