07/19/06 — K.J.'s road trip continues

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K.J.'s road trip continues

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on July 19, 2006 2:22 PM

Kevin Jones has been all over America watching his favorite team play baseball. As one of four road trippers on the YES Network reality show "Ultimate Road Trip, Season 2," the Patetown native has followed the New York Yankees to Oakland, Los Angeles, Boston, Minneapolis, Arlington, Toronto, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Anaheim, Detroit, Philly, Baltimore, Tampa -- and of course, New York.

Last week, Jones, known as K.J. on the show, made a special trip. He came back home to Wayne County for the All-Star break.

"It's fast-paced lifestyle in New York, it's like another world," Jones, who turned 36 on July 5, said during his four-day break. "You don't ask for help up there and you have to learn pretty fast. I really like New York, but being away for so long really makes you appreciate what you have at home. It makes you so appreciative of your family and friends and where you're from.

"It's good to be back. We had a big family get together in Saulston. We all went to the beach. It's nice to home, for sure."

He also enjoyed the break from all those cameras.

"When you have a camera in front of your face all the time, it makes you appreciate the frustration of those who have cameras following them all the time," K.J. said. "For the first three weeks, we'd walk down the city streets and they'd be filming us and I thought, 'This is pretty cool, everybody's watching us -- we're getting attention.' After about two months, though..."

Getting used to seeing oneself on television also takes some getting used to, Jones said.

"We've had 14 shows, and I've probably watched maybe half of them," he said. "It's a little funny watching yourself, because that's you, you're outside the box and you kind of critique yourself more than others might. You're a little more harsh on yourself."

Being the only person on the show from the South (the other three are from New York or New Jersey) also made it tough for Jones to watch -- at first.

"I know the first show, I'm surrounded by New Yorkers, and it sounded like I was talking slower than slow," Jones laughed. "I'm not a self-conscious person, what you see is what you get. But for the first three weeks, I was self-conscious. I kept thinking, 'I've got to speed up my talk.' But then, I said, 'No, you are who you are and I'm happy with who I am and I'm just going to be myself.'"

The All-Star break is over, and Jones is back to being himself in the Big Apple -- and watching the Yanks close the gap on the Red Sox.

"It's been a real memorable first half, and I'm excited about the second half," said Jones, who works as a business insurance agent in Garner and has taken a leave of absence to be on the show. "You think about all the injuries the Yankees have had this season, and for them to be so close to first place, if they can stay close to the Red Sox in September, I think they'll overtake them."

After sweeping the defending champion Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks are currently hosting the Seattle Mariners. After that, it's off to Toronto and Texas for the Bronx Bombers -- and the road trippers, who will see all 162 games the Yankees play this season.

"It's hard to remember everywhere we've been," said K.J., who grew up on a 125-acre tobacco farm in Patetown and became a Yankees fan as a kindergartner in 1976. "I love going on the road, there's something about it. But it's a lot more of a grind than I expected, there's a lot of wear and tear from going place to place and it makes you appreciate what these players go through on a daily basis. But I love the games and to be able to visit these cities free of charge, you can't beat that."

The road also helps bring the road trippers closer together -- four complete strangers who have become good friends.

"That's the unique thing," Jones says. "I started off on March 31 with three people I didn't know. Now, I've got three friends."

There's fellow road tripper Julio Pabon, 25, who grew up in the shadows of "The House that Ruth Built" ('He's a real character, always has a joke and always stirring something up, but a neat guy.' K.J. says); Maria Bova, 27, a bartender from Brooklyn ('She's a real pistol, has a lot of spirit and is a cheerleader type.'), and there's Tiffany Berryman, 30, a former tomboy from Cliffwood Beach, NJ ('She's probably the one I spend the most time with,' Jones says. 'The other two have boyfriends and girlfriends that they're with a lot. We watch a lot of Yankee classics, we talk a lot of strategy and we discusses possible trade rumors and how the Yankees should stack their lineup.').

The people the road trippers have met are like's a who's who of the Yankee nation.

They've chatted with Bobby Mercer, Mickey Rivers, Graig Nettles (who hit a home run at K.J.'s first Yankees game in 1983. 'I told him how my dad called his shot,' Jones says.), Jorge Posada, Shawn Chacon and Scott Proctor.

Then there are a few K.J. will never forget.

He hung with the Goose.

"The 1978 team is my favorite Yankees team, and I always loved Goose Gossage," Jones said. "It's rare to meet a person who exceeds your expectations, but the Goose did just that and more. A strong, big tough guy, but at the same time a real gentleman. You can tell he still has the fire of a champion, that winner's mentality. As a matter of fact, we asked him how he thought the '78 Yankees team would do against the '98 Yankees who won 125 games, and he said, 'I think we'd win.'"

K.J. also met Derek Jeter (who the Jones family dog is named after).

"It's been special to watch Derek Jeter play on a daily basis, he's one of the all-time greats, he's just a winner," Jones said. "He battles and battles, has had injury after injury, but still makes big plays and always brings his hard hat every day and hustles and plays all out. That's what makes him special, and to meet him was very special to me."

Then there was Yogi Berra.

"That's still the highlight," K.J. says.

He's been to ballparks he loves (Jacob's Field, Camden Yards, Ameriquest Field in Arlington, and of course, Yankee Stadium), and some he doesn't ('RFK Stadium, it's a dump, it's the worst. And Shea, it's not good either, but it has electricity when the Yankees are in town,' he says).

He's seen games he'll never forget.

No. 3 came on June 28, a 4-3, 12-inning win over the Braves. "That's the one where A-Rod hit the big two-run home run in the 12th against the Braves after John Smoltz and Chien-Ming Wang had a great pitchers' duel," K.J. said.

No. 2 came on May 23 when the Yankees beat Boston 8-6 at Fenway. "That's the one where Melky Cabrera made the great catch to take a home run away," he says.

"But the No. 1 game was the Jorge Posada game," K.J. said about the May 16 contest where the Yanks beat the Rangers 14-13. "We were down 9-0 to the Rangers in the third and we kept chipping away and Posada hit the winning two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and that stadium shook."

Now more than 16,000 miles into the "Ultimate Road Trip," Jones can't wait to make more memories.

"It's been a real experience. It's one of those things where you know when it's over you're going to look back and say, 'Man, I was such a lucky guy to be able to do something like that,'" he says with a smile. "At the end of the season, I'll come back to Wayne County with lot of friends, a lot of memories and a lot of good times to talk about -- it has been a very, very memorable time.

"It's rare in life that you can have an experience like this. What a great ride it's been so far."