NATCHITOCHES — Rick Jones offered the perfect anecdote that combined his current life and career passion.
Jones, the legendary Tulane baseball coach, said some things haven’t changed, even though he now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.
“Our neighbor has a dog named Tiger,” Jones said. “And every morning, it’s the same thing. I say ‘Hey Tiger’ and every morning, he growls. I think he knows I bleed green.”
Though he no longer lives in the New Orleans area, Jones made it clear that his heart remains with Tulane, which he called his “dream job.” Jones also paid tribute to rival LSU and its legendary coach, Skip Bertman, during the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame news conference held Thursday.
Jones coached Tulane to 12 NCAA appearances in 21 seasons. He talked about coaching during the renaissance of college baseball in which the sport became a major part of athletic programs instead of an afterthought.
LSU’s Bertman provided the blueprint for college baseball success with his transformation of the LSU program in the 1980s, Jones said.
The news conference, held at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum, kicked off the induction weekend that includes Saturday night’s induction ceremony at the Natchitoches Civic Center.
St. Amant High, Louisiana-Monroe and major league pitcher Ben Sheets, St. Thomas More High football coach Jim Hightower, NBA post player P.J. Brown and NFL running back Anthony Thomas also spoke to the media. Representatives for three posthumous inductees, LSU coach Red Swanson, Negro League baseball player Gentleman Dave Malarcher and Louisiana College coach/player Janice Joseph-Richard, provided input.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, winner of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership award, and long time LSU broadcaster Jim Hawthorne, a Distinguished Service award winner in sports journalism, addressed the group too.
Jones, who was 814-439-2 with the Green Wave, also recounted his biggest career milestone — Tulane’s win over LSU to advance to the College World Series in 2001.
“Coach Bertman was so good to me,” Green recalled. “After we won, I wanted him to speak to my team, and before I could ask, he said he wanted to talk to my team. It was amazing.”
- Art Swanson, son of Red Swanson, asked Sheets how high the mound was when he pitched. It was noted that the mound was lowered after Bob Gibson dominated hitters in the 1960s and 1970s.
Sheets quipped, “Bob Gibson ... he ruined it for all of us.”
- Thomas told the crowd that he was recruited by LSU, but opted to go north to Michigan, despite the cold weather. He told a story missing class one day after it got cold.
“I told them I’m from Louisiana … all I have is a windbreaker. I don’t have a coat.”
- Hightower noted the fact that Bailes’ input has taken the kickoff out of Pop Warner football.
“I really like Julian’s idea about taking the kickoff out of football,” Hightower said. “That’s one play I hate to coach. If we can move that on to the high school level I’d really like that.”