Tom Archdeacon: Dragons trio are part of the Jones family
Tom Archdeacon: Dragons trio are part of the Jones family
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By Tom Archdeacon
Sunday, June 08, 2008
LEWISBURG — When it was time to leave the Dayton Dragons game and head to the airport, Brian Jones — his emotions already getting the best of him — couldn't do it. And his kids had been so shook up about the prospect, they hadn't even gone to the game.
Even pitcher Terrell Young — being called up to high Class A ball in Sarasota — was in no hurry to leave Fifth Third Field last Sunday, June 1.
Finally, Brian's wife, Melissa — Missy, as many know her — took Young to his awaiting flight.
"On the way I told him I have never been more full of pride, nor more full of sadness than I am right now," she said. "He was tearing up, too, and he said, 'My heart is very heavy right now.' "
Although now one step closer to his dream come true — a trip to Major League Baseball — he was leaving a situation almost too good to be true.
In the nine seasons the Dragons have been in existence, no more unique relationship has developed than the one between three Dayton ballplayers — Young, Keltavious Jones and Justin Reed — and the family that's taken them in after a chance meeting in Florida a few years ago.
"There's just one word that can sum this family up," Reed said. "And that word is extraordinary."
Reed's a 20-year-old outfielder from Jackson, Miss., in his first year with the Dragons. The 22-year-old Jones, who joined the Dragons late last season, is from Hephzibah, Ga.. And Young, a 22-year-old right-hander from Grenada Miss., first came to Dayton in 2006.
The Jones family lives in a brick home surrounded by corn and soybean fields some five west of Lewisburg. Missy is a lawyer for the Montgomery County Public Defender's office. Brian has a carpet cleaning and water restoration business. Their son Bryten, a mix of precociousness and freckles, is 9 and daughter Makenna, with long pigtails and some missing front teeth, is 6.
The family has opened its home to the players — giving them their own rent-free basement apartment and a bedroom upstairs — given them a Ford Taurus to make the 35-minute drive to Dayton and, most importantly, they've intertwined them into their lives.
There are cookouts, golf outings and fishing trips. Brian is teaching Reed to play the blues guitar and Young has liked it so well at the Jones' home that he returns for stays in the offseason.
The players were the grand marshals in the start-of-the-season kids' baseball parade through Eldorado, the small Preble County village where Bryten plays Little League and Makenna is on a T-ball team.
Young listened to Bryten sing at his school's recital last year and last month, the trio — along with teammate Matt Klinker — visited Makenna's kindergarten class at National Trail Elementary, gave some baseball tips, played a ballgame with the students and then shared snacks and gave out Dragons caps that Missy and Brian provided.
And through these friendships some valuable lessons are being learned.
The three players are black. The Jones family is white. Their bond has nothing to do with skin tone.
"We live in Preble County, which is not the most racially diverse area, but our children don't see color in any of this and that means everything to me," Missy said. "I want my kids to experience something like this. The guys are teaching them about a life they don't have here. They treat our children so well and Bryten and Makenna look up to them as big brothers and love them.
"These are lessons that will last a lifetime."
Step in the front door of the Joneses' home and immediately on your left is a table displaying Brian and Missy's pride and joy:
There's a framed photo of Bryten, two of Makenna, another of Keltavious, bat in hand, and there's a side portrait of Terrell. There's also space left for a soon-to-be-framed picture of Justin.
In the kitchen the other morning, Justin — just up after a short night's sleep following a late-night game — sat down at the table and soon after Makenna crawled up into his lap.
Last month, after a game in which Justin hit a big home run at Fifth Third Field, Makenna crafted a note in her little-girl penmanship and left it on his pillow before she went to bed. She wanted him to see it first thing when he got home.
He had it with him the other morning. It read:
"Home Run King — to Justin from Makenna. I love you Justin."
What makes these relationships all the more remarkable is that they've come about thanks to that happenstance meeting at a Best Western motel in Sarasota.
"I was down there with some guys on a golf trip in February and we ended up staying where some of the players stayed," Brian said. "We got to talking and I said, 'Well, if you ever get to Dayton, give us a call and I'll take you to dinner.'"
That call came on Easter Sunday in 2006.
"It was Terrell and he goes, 'Guess where I am?'" Missy said. "He had made it to Dayton and he sounded sad and lonely. It was a beautiful day and we were having a cookout so Brian went for him.
"He ate like I'd never seen, he had a good time and he just fell in love with our kids."
Although he soon was sent to Billings, Young stayed in phone contact with the Jones family and the next year — after being assigned to Dayton — he called and asked to stay with them.
"We've always had an open-door policy and we've got five bedrooms and we're using just three, so I said Sure.' Missy explained. "We've been blessed so why not share it?"
Last August, Young came to Missy and Brian, told them his friend Keltavious had just been brought up from Billings and asked if he could stay there, too.
This spring, Justin joined the fold and soon he was smitten, too:
"The family is great to us, but to me the very best part is being around the kids. They're so attached to us. They look up to us and love us. And that makes me want to be a role model for them."
A popular trio
Jell's Sports Grill in Eaton decorates its walls with photos of people with local sports connections, people of whom they're proud.
And that's where — flanked on one side by a collage of images of the purple and gold Eaton High Eagles football team and on the other by pictures of a local tractor puller and a former high school football player now serving in Iraq — there's an autographed photo of Young. Soon pictures of Reed and Jones will be up, too.
"This has been good for a lot of folks around here," Brian said. "And now when the guys are on the road, friends call me up and say 'Hey, how'd they do last night?' "
As the players flourish or flounder, as new players are brought up from Billings or drop down from Sarasota, the Dragons' roster continually changes. And one day, Justin and Keltavious will be leaving, too — a departure that likely will trigger emotions again.
"When we took the guys to the airport at the end of last season," Missy said, "my husband was crying. I was crying and Makenna was sobbing. She was destroyed. She didn't eat for three days."
While Terrell plans to continue visiting in the offseason, Justin thinks there's something else he and the other guys can do:
"They're big Reds fans and I think the biggest joy they could get from us would be to see us play on TV for Cincinnati and know they helped us get there."
Missy agreed: "I told them, 'You know how the TV cameras panned to Jay Bruce's family in the stands and you saw how happy they were? Well, when one of you gets up there, I'm gonna be in the stands the same way. Just like your own relatives, I'll be smiling and crying just as hard.
" 'You're not somebody who's just living in our house. You're part of our family.' "
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