In smooth games and rough appearances, easy saves and blown ones, Jones was known with the media for always being available to talk. Thursday, with his pitching days at a close, was one last time for that. Instead of looking back at an outing, he was looking over a 16-year career. It was a little tougher chore to close out, even if the self-deprecating humor was still there.
"Time moves on," an emotional Jones said, pausing to collect himself enough to deliver the line. "Just don't ever get old."
The emotion came to Jones after noting the irony that his career is winding up as Tiger Stadium comes down. He threw the final pitch at the old ballpark when the Tigers closed it in 1999. Through all the ups and downs, bouncing around from team to team for four years, he'll be remembered as a part of Detroit sports. It's where he made his career more than a decade ago. It's where his career comeback hit its high note in 2006, and it's where he ended it -- just as he hoped he'd have the chance to do when the Tigers traded him in 2001.
"For me, it means the world," Jones said. "Because everything good, everything bad that I did, I did it as a Tiger. Having the chance to close out Tiger Stadium and open Comerica [Park], pitch in the World Series, pitch for my country [in the World Baseball Classic] and pitch in an All-Star Game, I did it as a Tiger. I'm very proud of what I was able to accomplish in my career, and especially as a Tiger.
"I'm just thankful I get to go out my way, because not enough players, not enough people do. I'd rather go out on my terms than grind it to the bitter end and have to rip the uniform off my body."
Retirement was in Jones' plans for a while, and it's why he chose his 2008 season carefully. Once it became clear he was not going to pitch close to his Alabama home, he was going to return to the Tigers for one more season, expecting it would be his last contract. He brought his teenage son on road trips over the summer so that he could experience it with him. He even entertained the fans during a summer rain delay by donning a long-haired wig and rounding the tarp-covered bases in an impression of Magglio Ordonez's walk-off home run from the 2006 American League Championship Series.
The planning allowed the 40-year-old Jones to take in his final season with a perspective. The injuries didn't allow him to enjoy it as much as he might've liked. A nagging shoulder injury bothered him for much of the summer before finally sidelining him in late July. He had hoped to come back and pitch for one last appearance, but his arm wouldn't allow it.
"As far as the 2008 Tigers go, [manager] Jim [Leyland] is not the Lone Ranger," Jones said, referring to Leyland taking responsibility for the team's struggles Tuesday. "I'm just as much a Tonto as anybody else is. So when you guys come up with reasons why this team didn't do what it was supposed to do, you're looking at one of them also.
"And as a player, I regret the fact that I wasn't able to go out there and take my medicine from the fans and from the media. Because it's important to finish what you started."
His nickname, "Roller Coaster," denoted how wild his outings could be, even when they ended in success. His accountability, on the other hand, was consistent. He made himself available to reporters after wins and losses. Now, after 319 saves, he wants to make himself available for his family. He'll head home after an on-field ceremony Saturday and be a stay-at-home dad while maintaining his regular column in The Sporting News, where he was able to break the story on his own retirement Wednesday.
He'll continue to follow the Tigers, of course. His playing days, however, are closed.
"There's little things you're going to miss," Jones said. "I won't miss waking up in the morning and being sore. I won't miss a night game going into a day game. I won't miss 15 innings in Seattle and then getting up seven or eight times, having to do all the things players have to do every day to get ready.
"But I'll miss hanging out on the plane with all my teammates, off-days on the road, four movies in a day, being a professional kid, playing Xbox until 3 or 4 in the morning and sleeping until 2 in the afternoon, then getting up and doing it all over again. But I want people to know one thing: This was a premeditated move. At the end of the day, it really comes down to what kind of father, what kind of parent, what kind of husband you are. I put my family through a lot."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less