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 FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -Choosing baseball over football and basketball was easy compared to the other decisions Adam Jones faced while growing up in the unsavory southeast side of San Diego.
Drugs, crime and membership in a street gang were all options, especially for a youth from a struggling family. When it came time to make that choice, Jones relied on the advice of the person he most admired: his older brother, Anson Wright.
``He had every reason to do something wrong,'' Wright said. ``My main concern was that he stayed on the right path. In the inner city of San Diego, there were a lot of people who had superior talent like Adam but they lost it all. It was my job to make sure he didn't blow it.''
Jones continued his pursuit of playing professional baseball, and is now the starting center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles. While his future appears to be exceptionally bright, it is his past that makes Adam Jones special.
Playing baseball was easy for Jones compared to his life off the diamond. He rarely saw his father, and was far more familiar with Wright's dad, with whom the boys stayed on weekends. On weekdays, Wright was responsible for getting Jones to the bus stop and keeping an eye on him after school.
``My brother tells me the biggest thing he did is keep me out of trouble, keep me out of harm's way, away from the wrong people,'' Jones said. ``He told me everybody in San Diego knew you were going to do what you're doing now.''
Wright was an exceptional athlete, too, but it didn't take him long to realize which kid in the family had the most potential to make it big.
``Adam was playing tee ball. He was at third base, and someone hit a rocket down the line that he backhanded and almost threw the person out,'' Wright recalled. ``Right then, everybody knew that dude was going to a professional ballplayer one day.''
Jones loved the game, but his family simply didn't have enough money to buy equipment. So he took it upon himself to make it happen.
``He would do anything to play baseball. He took the trolley to where he could sell candy, or spend the night putting up posters for the local rappers,'' Wright said. ``Then he would take that money and get himself a new baseball glove.''
At 12, Jones was a pitcher on a travel team. He quickly became friends with his catcher, Jett Ruiz, and soon became part of what he refers to as his ``baseball family.''
Steve and Debbie Ruiz took an immediate liking to Jones, the only black player on the team, and it wasn't long before Jones spent more time with the Ruiz family than his own.
``We pretty much adopted him. Whatever he needed, we got it for him,'' Debbie Ruiz said. ``I consider him a son. He was a wonderful kid, and now he is a fine young man. We love him. And I always knew that, with his drive and potential, he would make it to the majors.''
Picked by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 2003 amateur draft, Jones signed his contract in Ruiz's house. He made his big league debut in 2006, and after being named the Mariners' minor league player of the year last season, came to Baltimore in February as the centerpiece of the trade that sent five players to the Orioles for standout pitcher Erik Bedard.
The 22-year-old Jones has impressed his new teammates with his modest, unassuming attitude despite all the attention he's received as a can't-miss prospect.
``I feel good that everybody thinks of me in that regard. I appreciate that. But I haven't really done anything for Baltimore,'' he said. ``This is my time to prove it. I will work hard to fulfill that. I'm a a very humble guy. I know where I came from and what I've overcome. I'm not going to take anything for granted, especially this opportunity.''
Jones probably wouldn't have made it without the help of his brother and the Ruiz family, but he also feels indebted to someone he's never met: Jackie Robinson. Jones was about to leave for a vacation to Venezuela this winter when his best friend sent him a book about the first black player to make it to the majors.
Before he got home, Jones read it four times.
``The things he overcame just to make things better for me, players before me and hopefully players after me, were simply amazing,'' Jones said. ``It didn't necessarily start with Jackie Robinson; Josh Gibson was one of them, too.''
Jones is concerned about the dearth of blacks in the major leagues, and intends to become part of baseball's RBI program, which provides disadvantaged kids an opportunity to learn and enjoy the game.
``I don't want them to miss out,'' Jones said, ``because they're trying to pursue a career in some other sport or rap or the entertainment industry.''
Or drugs. Or crime.
``All the boys in the family had dreams of making it in professional sports,'' Wright said, ``but the Lord knew Adam was the one to actually do it. He could have gone to the other side, but he made the right choices. And by him making it, it's like we all made it.''
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