Jones, Mariners' first All-Star, returns to Seattle

Jones, Mariners' first All-Star, returns to Seattle

Jones, Mariners' first All-Star, returns to Seattle
SEATTLE -- Ruppert Jones, the Mariners' first player selected in their 1976 expansion draft, threw out the first pitch before Friday's game at Safeco Field, as part of the team's year-long 35th anniversary celebration.

For Jones, 57, it was an emotional return to the city where fans used to chant "Ruuuup" every time he came to the plate in the Kingdome. Jones was the team's first All-Star, selected in 1977, when he hit .263 with 24 home runs and 76 RBIs.

"I've been a few places, but this is my home," said Jones, who now sells insurance for the Boon Group in San Diego. "I walked upstairs to the All-Star Room and saw my picture and my name on the All-Star board and my name was the first one.

"I told myself, I never thought about it, but this is my legacy," he said. "And I kind of broke down a little bit because I realized I do have a legacy."

Jones pointed across the street, beyond Safeco's left-field seats where the Kingdome used to stand, and recalled his time with the Mariners from 1977-79.

"I wasn't used to going inside to play baseball, but we'd go in at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and you'd come out at 10:30 and think, 'Wow, where have I been?" he said with a chuckle. "And the first year I got here, it rained the whole year. I wasn't used to that. I was a California boy, so it took me a while to get used to that. But I loved my time here. I tell people, I consider this to be my home."

Jones spent time talking to Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis, who was a teammate of his briefly in the Minor Leagues in Evansville, Ind., in 1984 when both were in the Tigers' organization. The catcher on that team was Bob Melvin.

"Jiminy Christmas, I played in the Minors with some guys who have been very successful," he said.

Jones said he's largely stayed out of the game since retiring from the Majors in 1987. He played in a World Series with the Tigers, made two All-Star teams and carved out a 12-year MLB career, but now limits himself to coaching a team of 13-14 year-olds in San Diego with former pitching great Dave Stewart.

As he threw out the first pitch Friday, fans serenaded him with one more "Ruuup" chant. He said the only other place that cheer ever was used was briefly in San Diego during his time with the Padres, but not nearly to the same extent or effect.

"This was the place they really did it," he said. "They embraced me here and it was special."