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DeKalb legend’s retired number lives on Carroll sophomore carries on family’s baseball tradition

Carroll High School catcher Hayden Jones wears the No. 24 in this 2016 photo as he looks out to the DeKalb High School outfield fence, where his grandfather’s retired No. 24 has been put in tribute. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)

The day Carroll High School catcher Hayden Jones landed the No. 24 jersey as a freshman last year, he took his uniform up to his grandparents’ house.

He couldn’t wait to show his grandpa.

Bill Jones always wore No. 24 during an illustrious 27-year career as DeKalb High School baseball coach that included 612 wins, 15 sectional titles, three regional titles, two semistate titles and the 1980 state championship.

“My whole life, that’s been a Jones number,” Hayden Jones said after Carroll’s 15-5 win over DeKalb on Thursday.

Bill Jones died last November, and DeKalb honored him Thursday by retiring his No. 24 and putting the number on the right-field fence.

The night’s ceremonial first pitch was thrown by another one of Bill Jones’ grandsons, Chris Menzie, with Hayden Jones manning the catcher’s role. Many family members were in attendance, including Bill’s widow, Mildred, their son Ken (Hayden’s dad) and daughter Laura Menzie, and their families. Another son, Brad, and his family were unable to attend.

“When we decided to do this, we were thinking the first game of the year,” DeKalb Athletic Director Chris Rhodes said. “But playing Carroll so early in the season, we decided it would be a nice time to do it when his grandson was here and could be part of the first pitch. It was a great opportunity to include his grandsons in the whole ceremony.”

Rhodes arrived at DeKalb one year after Bill Jones retired, and coached the Barons for 17 years. The current coach, Tim Murdock, was a player for Jones in the mid-1980s. So connections were all around the diamond Thursday, but none quite as direct as Hayden Jones.

The Carroll catcher is a sophomore now, and one of the most highly sought recruits in the area. Among the colleges he is considering are Kentucky, Michigan State, Purdue, Xavier, Auburn and Liberty.

For now, his focus is on the remaining three years of his high school career. He went 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored against DeKalb.

Jones said he continues to draw on lessons that his grandfather passed down.

“He taught me how to be loyal and how to act,” he said. “You act a certain way as a ballplayer. You don’t throw your equipment around or any of that stuff that kids nowadays are doing. He taught my dad, and my dad passed it down to me.”

Ken Jones followed in his father’s footsteps as a baseball lifer, playing at DeKalb, then at Western Michigan University and was drafted by the San Diego Padres. He went on to coach at Ball State and Western Michigan. He’s currently the senior lead baseball instructor at the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

“I pretty much grew up on this field,” Ken Jones said, looking out at the DeKalb diamond. “My dad spent many hours out here, and me and my brother were slave labor during the summer times when we were growing up.”

Hayden Jones is the only child of Ken and Jennifer Jones, and it was inevitable that he would become a baseball player.

Ken was at Western Michigan as a coach when Hayden, then about 4 years old, took to emulating a number of left-handed hitters in the lineup. Ken Jones didn’t plan to force him into hitting left-handed, but he liked the development. Hayden throws right and hits left, and that combination is an attractive one for a potential college catcher.

The Jones family hopes that Hayden will be able to make a college commitment by the end of this summer, even though he’ll still have two high school seasons left.

“It’s stressful and everything, but my dad won’t let me make a decision that’s the wrong one,” Hayden Jones said.

Bill Jones was able to see Hayden play wearing the No. 24 last season, and that memory stays with the entire family.

Hayden used to call his grandfather after every game to report what happened. He still does so with his grandmother, when she’s not able to attend games.

“It was nice to have them celebrating his number, especially with me wearing his number, that was really nice,” Hayden Jones said. “Being able to see that and see others appreciate what he did for their school means a lot to me.”

Ken Jones said the night meant a lot to the whole family.

“With my boy playing,” Ken Jones said, “it couldn’t be much better.”

Grandpa surely would have agreed.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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