The ultimate Yankees fan
By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on April 4, 2006 2:44 PM
Kevin "K.J." Jones remembers the first time he walked into Yankee Stadium with his dad like it was yesterday.
It was warm summer night in 1983, and the Yanks were playing a big series against the Baltimore Orioles -- a team that went on to win the World Series that season.
The 13-year-old was star-struck as he entered "The House that Ruth Built" with his father, the late Judge Arnold Jones.
"I just kept saying to myself, 'I'm in Yankee Stadium,'" the now 35-year-old Wayne County native recalls with a smile. "My dad and I sat about 15 rows back in left field."
Ron Guidry, one of his favorite pitchers at the time, was on the mound that day. In the home half of the eighth, the game was tied at two with a man on first and third baseman Graig Nettles coming to the plate.
What happen next is something K.J. will never forget.
"My dad looked at me and said, 'Nettles is fixin' to win this game,'" Jones says as he holds an oversized, stuffed Yankees baseball. "And I'd bet like two pitches later, Nettles hit a moon shot into the right field porch. Not only was I amazed at my dad ... to see that moon shot. It was a great vantage point to see that big, swooping swing. I was jumping around so much. And to be there with my father, who passed away in 2000, that was just a special memory for me.
"That image will forever stay with me."
In the coming years, K.J. would watch the Yankees play more than a dozen more times, not only in the Bronx, but in Boston, Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa.
That's a real feat for most baseball fans, but K.J.'s just getting warmed up.
This season, he'll see all 162 regular season games the Yanks play as K.J. was selected as one of four die-hard Yankees fans who will appear on the YES Network's reality show, "Ultimate Road Trip: Season 2." On Monday night, Jones was in Oakland as New York opened the 2006 regular season on the West Coast.
"It's going to be an incredible ride," said Jones, who works as a business insurance agent in Garner and has taken a leave of absence. "I bought seven stat books for 180 games. I'm going to stat 'em all. I also bought seven notebooks to keep a journal. And I've got a digital camera, I'm going to take a lot of pictures and take a picture of all the stadiums."
Jones grew up on a 125-acre tobacco farm in Patetown and became a Yankees fan as a kindergartner in 1976.
"About a mile from here, as a kindergarten kid in 1976, I would go and visit with (the late) Jesse and Hazel Pate," said K.J., who lives right across the street from where he was raised. "Mr. Jesse was a lifelong Yankees fans. He would tell me about the old days, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and all those great Yankees teams. He always had a saying that I'll never forget, 'If the roll is called, the Yankees will be there.'"
Mr. Pate gave young K.J. the background and the history. All that was left was being hooked -- by a Catfish.
"I absolutely loved Catfish Hunter," he said. "I thought Catfish was a cool name as a little child, and I said, 'Oh man, I'd like to be like Catfish,' with him being from North Carolina and Mr. Jesse liking him so much. Couple that with the fact the Yankees were very good that year but got swept by the Big Red Machine, it made me pull for them that much more. When your team gets close but comes up short, it can bring you closer than if they win. Then the next years, '77-78, they won, Reggie (Jackson) hits the three home runs in '77 and Bucky Dent hits the big home run in '78 -- I was hooked for life.
"(Goldsboro native and manager) Clyde King was with the Yankees and (fellow Goldsboro native and catcher) Jerry Narron was coming up through the system, so that was neat, too. Once you're a true fan of a team, you never change."
K.J. went on to be star on the diamond as a shortstop, second baseman and pitcher at Wayne Country Day and was named to the News-Argus all-area baseball team as a senior in 1988.
"When I got on and was getting ready to steal a base, I'd get in the Rickey Henderson crouch, how he would get real low," Jones recalls. "I think I still hold the record single season record for stolen bases -- I hit .400 that year and was 30-for-30 on stolen bases."
Now, as he travels around the country, K.J. said he'll remember all the great Yankees moments he's witnessed throughout the years. He'll remember Catfish, Nettles and Henderson -- and he'll remember his dad
He'll recall the long ride in 1996 when he saw the Yankees beat the Orioles in Game 4 of the ALCS.
"We rode up there, (Paul) O'Neill hit a home run, (Darryl) Strawberry hit two home runs, (Mariano) Rivera got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth," he said. "We got tickets at the last minute, rode all the way up there, left the park at 12:30 a.m. and drove back to Raleigh, where I was working at the time. When we hit the North Carolina line, I still had three hours to go, so I grabbed a Big Gulp Mountain Dew, a big bag of Doritos so I could keep myself awake. Then I watched Game 5, the clincher, the next day on TV."
Then there was Clemens vs. Smoltz in '99.
"I was also at the '99 Game 4 clincher when (Roger) Clemens beat (John) Smoltz. Me and my brother Arnie sat out with the 'Bleacher Creatures' in right field.
"That was an experience."
So was hanging out in a swimming pool in Boston with his favorite current Yankee, Bernie Williams ("We found out where they were staying," he said.).
Some his memories are tangible. He's got tons of photos, baseball cards and autographed balls (he's particularly fond of the autographs of Catfish, Don Larson, Goose Gossage, who, like K.J. was born on July 5, Derek Jeter, Doc Gooden and Mickey Rivers), and there's also a picture of K.J. and Arnie with "The Boss," George Steinbrenner.
Oh, and don't forget the family dog, Jeter.
After sending in an application tape to the "Ultimate Road Trip: Season 2," he was called to New York for a casting session.
He jumped right in his car. If he had to, he probably would have driven to Alaska.
Now, he's headed on the road trip of his life.
"The 26 championships are great, but it's more than just the championships. It's the aura of the Yankees," K.J. said less than 24 hours before hopping a plane to Oakland. "Love 'em or hate 'em, you don't have a lot of mixed emotions with that team. When the Yankees show up, the town's abuzz. They're the kings of the baseball world. It's like if someone beats Duke or Carolina in basketball.
"They're the team you want to beat."
The "Ultimate Road Trip: Season 2," debuted at 8:30 p.m. Monday on YES network. Most shows will be replayed several times every week.
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