Ask Jimmy Jones about the time he threw 251 pitches in a high school baseball playoff game, and his first recollection won’t be about arm fatigue, the 16 innings he threw, the home run he blasted, or the 28 hitters he struck out.
“I remember we lost,” Jones said about the day Thomas Jefferson fell to Texarkana 7-6 in the opening game of a state quarterfinal playoff series at Reverchon Park.
Still, the game is best known these days for Jones’ pitch count, which remains a national record that almost certainly will never be broken during the modern era, in which overuse of young pitchers is heavily scrutinized and bullpen roles are more specialized.
Jones witnessed that pitching transformation firsthand. He’s spent the last several years as a pitching coach in the San Diego Padres organization, and most recently with the San Antonio Missions in the Double-A Texas League.
“When I was coming up through the minor leagues, the starter had the ball until he couldn’t pitch anymore. Now, it’s more of a reliever game and starters are a commodity. If you have the lead after the sixth inning and you have a good bullpen, you’re usually going to win,” Jones said.
“When Nolan Ryan and those harder throwers were coming up, they were the studs, and they were the guys who you were going to have to face four times a game. It seems like if you throw hard now, you’re stuck in the back of the bullpen, and that’s going to be your role for the rest of your life.”
Despite that old-school perspective, Jones said he appreciates the increased attention toward long-term arm health and development, and he supports the introduction of pitch count limits for Texas high school pitchers by the UIL prior to the 2017 season.
“You see a lot of young kids having Tommy John [elbow surgery]. So, it’s kind of carried over to professional baseball as far as pitch counts and how often a reliever can be used,” said Jones, who now oversees a pitching staff consisting of five starters and eight relievers. “There’s certain things that are common sense. Everybody wants to win, but as a coach, it’s your job to manage those guys.”
Jones’ arm didn’t suffer any long-term damage from that playoff game. The right-hander was drafted third overall in the 1982 major league baseball draft. He also threw a one-hit shutout in his MLB debut for the Padres against the Houston Astros in September 1986.
He pitched for eight years in MLB, accumulating 43 wins between stints with the Padres, Astros, New York Yankees, and Montreal Expos. He also pitched two seasons in Japan.
Jones, 53, grew up in Preston Hollow across the street from a family with three sons involved in football and baseball, and he played each summer in leagues sponsored by the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce. At Thomas Jefferson, he played for legendary coach Gerald Turner, who went on to become a professional scout after leaving the high school ranks.
After his playing career ended in 1995, Jones moved his family to Flower Mound. He was out of baseball for more than a decade until he found his way back to the field.
Jones coached for a few seasons at a local private school before shifting back to a professional dugout in 2008. He served as the interim bullpen coach for the Padres in 2012, but has spent most of his time at the minor league level.
Although the game has changed since he played, Jones finds himself still going back to his roots, specifically when it comes to Turner. Both the pitcher and coach are in the Thomas Jefferson High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
“He was very organized, had some good teams, and taught a lot of good baseball stuff,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of things, like bunt coverages, that we do here that I learned back in high school.”
That takes us back to that legendary 1982 playoff game, which was delayed for 30 minutes during extra innings so umpires could call the UIL to inquire about inning limits for pitchers. There were none, so Jones kept throwing.
“You never knew what inning it was. You just saw the score and kept going and going. You’re so locked in that you never thought about the pitch count. You just wanted to get that run to win the game,” he said. “I could feel it physically afterward, but during the game the workload seemed insignificant.”
Two days later, Jones was supposed to play third base in the second game of the series in Texarkana, but told Turner he couldn’t throw the ball to first base because of arm soreness. So, he was the designated hitter that day — before he came in to pitch in relief.
Jones said he likes coaching at the Double-A level because, looking back, the two seasons he spent in the Texas League with the Beaumont Golden Gators in the mid-1980s were instrumental to his development.
“I enjoy coaching and being around the guys,” Jones said. “It’s a completely different generation. They make me feel young. Hopefully I can give them little things that they can take along with them.”
The UIL established limits on pitch counts and subsequent rest days for Texas high school and middle school pitchers prior to the 2017 season. Pitchers are limited to a maximum of 110 pitches per game in high school, and 85 in middle school. The mandate also covers post-season games.