Spencer Jones is in the middle of the longest baseball season of his life. He’s dream chasing.
It’s something the 2012 Reed grad declared as a child watching a San Francisco Giants game at now AT&T Park. He told his dad he would play there one day. He’s on his way.
Jones, a 6-5 right-handed pitcher, started his senior season at the University of Washington four days into 2016. He went on to finish second in the Pac-12 in appearances (32) with a 6-2 record and a 4.14 ERA over 58.2 innings.
In his final outing in purple, he pitched 3.2 innings of relief to pick up the win in 9-8 comeback victory over host Vanderbilt in the NCAA regionals.
Despite playing just two years in Seattle (after two years at Mendocino Junior College), Jones just missed landing on the Huskies career appearances list with 62.
Scouts noticed. That’s why the story of his career continues to be written.
In the 10th round of this year’s Major League Baseball Draft in June, the Tampa Bay Rays made Jones the 300th overall player taken.
“It was surreal,” Jones said. “I can’t even describe it.”
Teams had told him he may go even sooner, in rounds ranging from six to nine. A New York Mets scout told him to make sure his phone was on around 9:30 a.m. (approximately rounds 7-8) the second day of the draft. Jones only had one previous conversation with the Rays.
As the draft progressed and day two of three-day draft dwindled (day two ends after the 10th round, pick No. 316), the 21-year-old thought he may have to wait until Saturday. He stood in a parking lot amongst friends, family and teammates tailgating the athlete graduation.
“I was looking at the draft tracker and my name pops up on it,” Jones said. “It was just cool being around all my friends and family in the parking lot and sharing that experience with them.”
The rush of getting drafted was quickly hit with a firm dose of reality. His draft spot was slotted for a $156,000 signing bonus. He received $10,000. He plans to eventually put a down payment on a car.
Already graduated, the Rays were not forced to buy him out of school.
“Staying for my senior year hurt me money wise, but I got to finish my degree, which is what I wanted to do,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to have to come back five, six years down the road and have to finish my degree. So that was worth losing out on the money. But it does suck to get picked in the 10th round and get $10,000 when I was slotted for (almost) $160,000.”
He flew home on Sunday following graduation, one week after the Huskies’ year ended with a 7-5 loss to Xavier. Two days later, he flew across the country to Fishkill, N.Y. where he reported to the Rays Single-A short season affiliate, the Hudson Valley Renegades.
His professional debut came a week and a half later, on June 24, against the Lowell Spinners, a Red Sox affiliate. The former Reed Raider threw two shutout innings, allowing two hits with a pair of strike outs and one free pass.
“The butterflies were pretty big until I got out on the mound and then throwing the first pitch. It’s like what I’ve had at every level: My first junior college appearance, my first Div. I appearance,” Jones said. “Once I throw the first strike, then I’m like ‘wow, this is just like any other game.’”
His first professional season will end Sept. 4, exactly eight months after starting his senior year at UW. But even then, he may not be done.
A select number of players within the organization will receive the “honor” to participate in instructionals, a five-week program at the Ray’s spring training facility in Port Charlotte, Flo. If picked, Jones wouldn’t return home to Sparks until the third week of October.
Then, he could finally celebrate graduation with his family. But for now, he’ll continue working towards playing at AT&T Park.