Brian Jones was the Trojans’ starting quarterback for two state football semifinal games, played semi-pro football for two years, was all-Apollo in football and baseball twice and was named Charleston’s senior athlete of the year in 1980. Jones, who is currently the Director of Parks and Recreation in Charleston, also played baseball for four years at Eastern Illinois University where he played shortstop on the 1981 team that reached the NCAA Division II World Series before signing as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played for the Pirates organization from 1985-87, making it as high as Class AA. He was also a licensed IHSA football official for 25 years, working the 2016 Class A state finals. He recently spoke with Jeff Owens.
COLES COUNTY SPORTS: When you were signed by the Pirates, what were your initial thoughts?
BRIAN JONES: I just wanted a chance to see if I was good enough to play professional baseball. I played in summer collegiate leagues and felt like I held my own with a lot of players that were getting drafted or signing. I just wanted to see if I was good enough too.
CCS: While playing at Eastern Illinois University, your 1981 team placed second in the NCAA Division II World Series. What do remember about that team and season?
JONES: First of all, that was a really good team with a bunch of great guys and good ball players. There were eight guys off that team that eventually played professional baseball. Tim Pyznarski got drafted in the first round by the Oakland A’s that year and, of course, Kevin Seitzer ended up playing 12 years in the Major Leagues. The World Series was a double-elimination tournament and we lost our first game and was in the loser’s bracket. We were playing LeMoyne College and losing in the bottom of the ninth by one run. The sixth-place trophy was just outside of our dugout. All LeMoyne had to do was turn a double play and we are eliminated and get sixth place. The second baseman short hops the first baseman and he missed it, we tie the game, and win in extra innings. We then go on to win through the losers bracket – and, by the way, we beat Danny Cox and Troy State along the way. But we then lost to Florida Southern College to get second place.
CCS: In your third year in the minors, you advanced to Double-A ball, and then your career was over. What happened?
JONES: The Pirates traded Tony Pena to the Cardinals and got a minor leaguer in the trade. He came to Double-AA to play and the Pirates wanted me to go down to Macon, Georgia in the South Atlantic League and be a player/coach. I basically told myself that when I started to go backwards in the process I would go home so I chose not to do that and asked for my release but they would not give it to me. I had to voluntarily retire, which I did.
CCS: You are a highly decorated Charleston High School athlete. What are a couple of your favorite memories?
JONES: I played a lot of baseball in college and professionally but the most fun I had playing sports was Friday nights in Football. We made it to the Semi-Finals three years in a row and I was fortunate enough to be the quarterback my junior and senior years. There was nothing better than playing at old Trojan Hill with that place packed. Once again, we had a lot of really good athletes and coaches while I was in high school.
CCS: What is your favorite minor league baseball memory?
JONES: Probably the relationships that you make with your teammates and coaches. I got the opportunity to play with some great guys and I just went to St. Louis a couple of years ago and saw and talked to Tom Prince, whom I played with in (Class) A ball. He was the bench coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and we talked just like it was 1986 again.
CCS: Who are some of the people we would know that you played with and against?
JONES: I have been removed since 1987 but I would hope that some people can remember a few of these guys. Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff King, John Smiley, Jose Lind, Felix Fermin, Tom Prince, Barry Jones all played on teams with me in the Pittsburgh organization. I played against Gregg Jefferies (Mets), Mark Grace, Dwight Smith, Damon Berryhill, Jamie Moyer, Dave Martinez, Doug Dascenzo, Hector Villanueva, Les Lancaster (Cubs), Ron Gant, David Justice, Jeff Blauser (Braves), Glenallen Hill and Pat Borders (Blue Jays).
CCS: You came back to Charleston to work. Why?
JONES: I came back to finish up my degree at EIU, plus my family was here. After being gone for three summers in college and three summers in pro ball, I realized that Charleston is a pretty good place to live.
CCS: How long have you been in your current position?
JONES: 15 years
CCS: How do you keep your Rec Department fresh with new ideas?
JONES: It is a challenge since we do not have our own indoor facilities. We rely on the school district to use their space and we try to offer what we can with the times and facilities that are available.
CCS: Did you ever consider coaching?
JONES: I coached seventh grade basketball for two years at the Charleston Middle School and also helped Bob Lawrence at the high school with the baseball team for four years on a part-time basis. I also coached my daughters in softball in our Rec leagues, but that is about all I have done. Like I said, Pittsburgh wanted me to be a player/coach in the minor leagues, but I chose not to do that.
CCS: You also spent a considerable amount of time officiating with your brothers. Talk about that.
JONES: When I came back from playing baseball and got back to Charleston, my brothers Mike and Randy (RJ) had already started officiating football, so I decided to do that with them. I just felt like I wanted to give back to a sport that I enjoyed playing and get back out on the field on Friday nights again. We started a crew and we worked for a lot of years, and it really was satisfying and rewarding. We worked our way through the playoffs for a number of years and then finally got the honor of working the 2016 Class 1A State Championship game in Champaign. We believe that it is the only time that three brothers on the same crew have ever worked a state championship game.
CCS: Sports have always been a big part of your life, what have they taught you?
JONES: That life is not fair but anything worth having is worth working for. It teaches you responsibility, teamwork, organizational and communication skills and how to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser.
CCS: What is the Brian Jones advice for young people?
JONES: Do not specialize in sports, and play as long as you can because it will end and you do not want any regrets. I did not and would not allow a coach to keep me from doing or playing a sport that I wanted to play.
CCS: What is your favorite piece of sports memorabilia?
JONES: I do not have a lot of stuff, but probably one of my tear away jerseys from high school football.
CCS: Do you think you belong in the EIU Hall of Fame?
JONES: That is for others to decide.