There’s a reason catcher’s equipment is called the tools of ignorance. Baseball lore has it that a smart athlete would not play such a physically taxing position.
Despite shin guards, chest protectors, knee protectors and a mask, catchers constantly take a beating, the worst physical punishment in baseball. The catcher must block the plate to prevent baserunners from reaching home and scoring. Catchers also constantly get bruised, battered and broken by pitches, foul tips and occasionally the bat.
Despite the stereotype, the catcher usually has the best understanding of baseball tactics and strategies, and often is the smartest player on the team.
Meet Bishop England High School’s Matt Jones, a catcher for the Bishops for most of this season.
Jones’ body has taken such a beating that he can’t even throw the baseball after dislocating his shoulder in a recent game. But that won’t stop him from being the designated hitter in the Bishops’ Class AA Lower State championship series game today at Dillon.
Tools of ignorance? Whoever coined that phrase didn’t meet Jones.
In the classroom, Jones sports a 4.8 GPA, a grade-point average weighted by AP honors courses. He’s earned a National Merit Scholarship to the University of Oklahoma and plans to major in pre-med. After that, he wants attend medical school with hopes of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, in part because of his experiences as a catcher.
Jones has suffered numerous injuries on the field and behind the plate. He fractured a growth plate of his left leg while sliding into third base. He broke a thumb. He fractured his left ulna when a batter swung his bat and hit Jones’ arm.
There were more baseball injuries, but nothing to compare to what happened to him in February 2009 soon after he was selected to be a member of the Bishop’s junior varsity team.
Jones was riding his bike across the road when he was hit by a car going 35 mph. His face shattered the windshield and he was thrown about 25 feet. He suffered severe facial lacerations, a fractured nose, various cuts and bruises all over, and a right labrum tear in his shoulder.
“Our life was always hectic,” said Jones’ father, Greg. “But when we got the phone call, it slowed everything down. It put baseball and life in perspective. Once we knew everything was going to be OK, it was a blessing. We were truly grateful to God.”
Seven months later, the younger Jones underwent surgery to repair the right shoulder, which kept popping out of joint after he returned to baseball.
“Not once did I ever think I was jinxed,” Jones said. “Things happen for a reason, but sometimes I just couldn’t understand why. But I had a lot of good experiences along the way with Dr. (James) DeMarco, who was my orthopedic surgeon. He’s why I am interested in becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
Jones was finally healthy for his senior season, and first-year coach Mike Darnell knew all about his list of misfortunes.
“I knew he got hurt a littler here, a little there,” Darnell said. “It was sort of an ongoing joke. His father helps out in the pressbox and we sort of joke about all that’s happened. I tell him I hope he has good insurance and that with all that’s happened, with all the claims, I wouldn’t be surprised if they dropped you.”
Jones has been relatively healthy this season. He injured a finger early in the season and dislocated his shoulder a couple of weeks ago when he slid into a base.
“He kind of laid there and I went out,” Darnell said. “He said, ‘This can’t be good. This can’t be good.’ His shoulder was out of his socket. But he doesn’t quit. You just tape him up and he want to go out there.”
Jones can’t participate in the catchers’ drills any longer, and sometimes comes to practice late. But Darnell doesn’t complain.
“He’s a smart kid,” Darnell said. “He’s late every once in a while because he’s got AP labs or AP studies after school. I don’t say much to him because he’s a lot smarter than me.”
And in a few weeks, Jones will trade his tools of ignorance for a cap, gown, diploma and a bright future.
Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter: @pandcphil