It was a tiny flair between third base and shortstop. An infield single. The hit came last winter, at Nicholls State, during the Colonels’ first intrasquad scrimmage of the season. Outfielder Walter Jones sprinted down the first-base line. “I didn’t hit the ball very hard,” recalls Jones, now 23. “But it felt great — I didn’t realize what I’d been through until that moment.”
For the first time in four years, Jones was able to show the best part of his game: speed. It had been a long, painful journey that delivered him to that first-base bag in Thibodaux, Louisiana. There were hugs and hand-slaps from his teammates. Then, alone with his thoughts, Jones let his mind drift to the injury — on a different field in a different state.
Back in 2003, Jones was a freshman quarterback at the University of North Alabama. He was running a zone-option-read play during a Friday scrimmage when he was tackled by two defenders — one high, one low. He heard a snap. “I felt the pain in my right leg,” he says. “I looked down and my ankle was next to my knee.”
Jones had never been hurt before. He remembers “waiting for the ambulance was the longest fifteen minutes of my life.” Soon, he learned he’d broken his right tibia and fibula — an injury that required the insertion of a steel rod against his bones.
Though Jones was told it would take a year to recover, he was back on his feet in half the time. He lifted weights and ran distances. He also focused on his studies, often battling pain medication to stay awake. During his rehabilitation, he received a call from his old baseball coach, Larry Tubbs, who invited Jones — a two-sport star at Eufaula (Ala.) High School — to play for his American Legion team. “I [knew that playing college baseball] was an idea he had toyed with in the past,” Tubbs told the Eufaula Tribune. “If getting back into baseball was something he wanted to do, I thought we could help him.”
After a terrific summer with Tubbs’ team, Jones decided to make his switch to baseball more permanent — he transferred to Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusia, Ala. But in the fall of 2004, after mopping the floor to his new apartment, he slipped and re-broke his leg.
“I was pretty down,” Jones says. “I had just worked my way back from fourth outfielder to starter.”
For the second time in as many years, Jones retreated to physical therapy. More weight-lifting, more running. Still, the pain continued. One morning he awoke to discover his knee the size of a softball. His physician drained some fluid, but the pain wouldn’t quit. He visited a few specialists until finally, in the summer of 2007, he was diagnosed with a bone infection. A surgeon removed the steel rod. For the next six weeks, instead of racing to the ball-field after classes, Jones was plugged into an I.V. for twice-daily doses of antibiotics.
“It was incredibly challenging mentally,” Jones says. “But I learned that you’re going to go through adversity in life — and it’s how you deal with adversity that builds your character.”
Jones discovered his character is strong. Last season, healthy for the first time in four years, he played in 45 of the Colonels’ 48 games — batting .315, with 29 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. A recent graduate, he’s now enrolled in business school; he wants to realize his childhood dream of becoming a sports agent.
When he’s not studying or helping out with the Colonel baseball team, Jones can often be found in the trainer’s room. Oh, he feels fine. But he wants to encourage others. “If I see someone who’s having a hard time with an injury, I’ll go talk to them,” Jones says. “Maybe I can give them some hope.”