In rural Wright County, not far from where his family ran a dairy and cattle farm, the kid who fell in love – first with baseball, then a girl named Calleen – is proof of a universal truth:
If the big leagues never come calling, you can still make it big in small-town America – and, in the process, positively influence young people’s lives.
Doug Jones may seem like an ordinary name, but he is no ordinary coach. In fact, he is the winningest baseball coach in the history of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, with 713 wins entering the 2016 season – mostly for Mansfield High School.
Which is one of the reasons why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Jones in the Class of 2016. The induction is part of the Hall’s Baseball Luncheon presented by the Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company, and is set for 11 a.m. May 18 at the University Plaza Convention Center. (See details below).
“In all honesty, I think (players) felt like I was someone who loved the game,” Jones said, “and they wanted to play hard because they loved the game, too.”
Jones’ affection for baseball was no more apparent than in the spring of 2016, as he continued to coach despite undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor in January.
His passion is understandable, given Jones has given everything to the game. He has coached since 1980, with 30 seasons at Mansfield High School and a five-year stay (1982-1987) at Fordland High School.
His Mansfield teams reached state Final Four in 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 2005, with state championships in 1995 and 1996. Along the way, 60 players went on to collegiate baseball, and three signed pro contracts, including one, Bart Evans, who reached the big leagues.
Mansfield also has won 21 district championships and 22 of his 24 Summit Conference titles. Between 1992 and 2000, the team set the state record with 51 consecutive league victories, and then his 2004 to 2010 teams nearly pulled the trick again with 41 consecutive league wins.
All this from a humble, Class 2 school with an annual enrollment of roughly 200 students and with a coach who fits like a glove.
“My father started pitching to me when I could walk and run,” said Jones, an inductee of the Missouri Baseball Coaches Association and the Springfield Softball Hall of Fame. “When people would ask me what I wanted to do in life, I said I wanted to be a professional baseball player.”
While pro baseball never came calling, coaching did. In fact, Jones was groomed for it.
He was a four-year starter at both Norwood High School (1974 graduate) and Southwest Baptist University (1978 graduate). In Bolivar, he also was voted a team captain his final two years and, as a senior, earned NAIA All-District 16 selection.
“When I was growing up, I watched everything there was to watch that was on ‘Game of the Week with Curt Gowdy,’” Jones said. “I tried to learn about every position, from shortstop to catcher.”
Middle school coach Donnie Webb as well as high school coach Terry Writer also influenced his career.
“Donnie Webb showed me there was some strategy when it came to baseball,” Jones said. “We had a pickoff play at second base that was dead good. My high school teams have done it for 35 years.”
Jones’ first break came in 1980 in Mansfield, where then-coach Randy Short was a year away from transitioning into an insurance agent. His first team won its first 20 games before falling in the district semifinals.
One of his best teams was in 1990, when Mansfield reached the state semifinals with a 30-0 record and saw seven go on to play in college. But it was also a humbling experience. The team lost in the semifinals.
“It was probably the most eye-opening experience,” Jones said. “I think all of us had the 32-0 state championship banner already hanging in the gym. I used that as a motivational thing for many, many years.”
State championships came in 1995 and 1996. Matt Skyles – who later reached Double-A in the Cleveland farm system – secured the 1996 state championship by pitching in relief, after already striking out 13 in a semifinal.
It is among many great memories for Jones, who also cites the great support of his wife, Calleen, and his sons, Evan and Colton. He coached both within the past decade. In 2015, Mansfield named its ballpark in his honor.
“Our community has been a baseball community forever,” Jones said. “We were very blessed with talent. It seemed like we reloaded every year.”
Note: All photos for this story were submitted
Baseball Luncheon presented by the Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company
When: 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 18
Where: University Plaza Convention Center, Springfield
Honorees: Missouri State University baseball coach/athletic director Bill Rowe to be named a Missouri Sports Legend; Inductions of St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs groundskeeper George Toma, and Mansfield High School baseball coach Doug Jones
Diamond 9 awards: Marin Whorton Cooney (Ozark High School/Missouri Southern), Sophia Alexander Denning (Strafford High School/Drury); Bob Detherage (Hillcrest High School/Kansas City Royals); Bill Helfrecht (Glendale High School/Missouri State), Brent Maggard (Sparta High School/Crowder/Southern Arkansas), Kristen Marshall (Glendale High School/William Jewell), Troy McMain (Willard High School), Christian Overstreet (Nixa High School/Missouri State), and Tom Wilson (Bolivar High School/Detroit Tigers).
Tickets: Individual ticket is $40. Head table ticket is $100. A table of eight is $400 and includes an autographed print along with associate sponsor recognition in the printed program. Congratulatory ads and other sponsorships are available. Call the Hall of Fame at 417-889-3100.