BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Indiana University junior centerfielder Kennard Jones signed a major league contract with the San Diego Padres organization Thursday, officially ending his career with the Hoosiers. Jones, the 85th overall pick in the third round of last June's Major League Baseball draft, could have opted to return to Indiana for his senior year, but instead chose to sign with the Padres.
Jones began his road to the major leagues last night, starting in centerfield and leading-off for the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. The Emeralds squad is a single-A affiliate of the Padres. Jones went 1-for-5, with his hit coming in his first-at-bat.
"I have worked so hard for this for many years and I'm so excited that I have the opportunity to play professional baseball," said Jones. "I've signed with a great organization that is very committed to preparing players for the next level."
The speedy centerfielder has been playing most the summer in the Florida Collegiate Instructional League at the Baseball Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
"A lot of players choose to sit around over the summer, but my whole plan was to get better and stronger during these past couple of months," Jones said. "I really wanted to stay in good shape and learn more about the game and that is exactly what this academy did for me. It was a very tough program, but it really prepared me for professional baseball."
The Beltsville, Md. native was touted as a major league prospect by many scouts before last year's campaign began. Jones, who played at Wallace State Junior College for his first two years, had one of the most memorable seasons in IU baseball history in his only year as a Hoosier.
Jones earned several honors for his accomplishments, including being named to the Midwest Region team, and being selected as the 2002 Big Ten Tri-Player of the Year while earning first-team All-Big Ten accolades. Jones led the Big Ten Conference regular season in hitting with a .411 overall average. He also led the league in hits (88), runs (72), and was second in stolen bases (22).
"This past year at IU was by far the best experience of my life," Jones said. "I knew that I could contribute to a team if a school just gave me a chance and IU did. I had an opportunity to show my skills as a player, but more importantly, I grew as a player by learning from my teammates and coach Morgan."
Indiana Head Coach Bob Morgan attributes much of Jones' success to his hard work ethic.
"Kennard came in right away, worked hard, and made a difference to this baseball team," Morgan said. "He is an outstanding player and we are going to miss him dearly."
Morgan stresses that it wasn't just the speed and defensive ability, but the drastic improvement in his hitting that made Jones the player he is.
"Not only could he cover a wide range in the outfield with his speed, he showed a great improvement with his hitting this year. He was a true competitor at the plate and was very consistent. He improved greatly from junior college and became a very good hitter this past year."
Jones, who led Indiana to their first trip to the Big Ten Tournament since 1996, was the first .400 hitter for the Hoosiers since Mike Crotty (.423) in 1995.
Although inking his name to a major league contract has ended his baseball career with the Hoosiers, Jones will be returning to IU in the offseason to complete his final three semesters and earn his degree.
"My time here at Indiana was the best experience of my life," said Jones. "IU is awesome when it comes to both the athletics and social scenes, but I could not ask for a more first-class academics program. I might not be able to do it all next year, but I will finish every requirement I have and earn my degree from IU."