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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Leones center fielder Jonathan Jones is an expat like us

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OLY is more than a nominal that the world’s best athletes can affix to their name. It’s Leones center fielder Jonathan Jones calling his shot. I sat down with the Olympic hopeful at a coffee shop in Centro. Talking about everything from how he ended up in Mérida, what he would change about the game and his plans after baseball. I came to the realization — as cliche as it sounds — that pro athletes are expats too.

Jones’ path to becoming an expat is different than most of us, but the reasoning is familiar: stress, money, time, excitement, adventure, and ultimately a second chance at a baseball career that was stalling in the States.

The journey started when a mentor and former pro asked if Jones had any Mexican blood — making it easier to play pro ball in the Mexican league. Jones’ grandfather is from Mexico, but the country had a bad reputation in baseball circles — late payments, no payments, quality of play, etc. — so after exploring the idea, he quickly dismissed it until coaches and managers started calling.

What eventually drove Jones to Mexico is what drives many expats anywhere initially, money. The allure of saving hundreds or thousands a month is just too good an opportunity to pass up for most of us.

In Mexico, Jones found something he had been chasing since the Blue Jays drafted him in the 29th round: success.

Although money was the primary factor in that initial decision, there was also part of him that saw the move as a way to revitalize a stalling career. When the idea of playing in the Mexican league started to gain steam, Jones was playing independent ball for the New Britain Bees — a long way from his dreams of playing in MLB — and with no prospects to get back in the majors in the near horizon, what did he have to lose?

The biggest change he discovered in moving here wasn’t the language barrier — the majority of ballplayers speak English — but the feeling of being out of the rat race, for the first time in a long time Jones could appreciate where he was, who he was with, and connect with himself.

Self-exploration did not come naturally or easy, and his first year in Mexico saw him staying in his apartment, hotel rooms and an ever-increasing Uber Eats bill, but slowly he started to explore his surroundings and open up to the local culture which had an effect on him.

If you asked him now, Jones would tell you he’s not the same person or player before coming here, he’s better

Personally, Jones feels like he has grown as an individual — he’s no longer solely focused on one goal like when he was younger; he’s out of the rat race. He is back in college for a master’s degree in business, spending more time with family, enjoying his position in life, and getting ready for life’s next stop. Professionally, Jones played in the Olympic qualifier for Mexico’s national baseball team — earning the nation a spot in the Olympics — a first in the nation’s history. Made the All-World roster, plays for two Mexican league teams and is waiting for his name to be called on the field in Tokyo this summer.

Not bad for a kid from California, and I still owe you that beer!

The above is part one of a two-part profile of Jonny, which focuses on the expat journey that pro athletes go through when playing in a new country. Part two is focused on Jonny’s playing career, Olympic trial, and the game — part two of the article can be found on my blog covering the Leones.

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