HANCEVILLE, ALA. – As a longtime educator in Cullman County, Donald Jones always had an interest in Wallace State baseball and made James C. Bailey Stadium a second home after retirement in the late 1990s.
On Saturday, Jones's legacy and impact as Wallace State baseball's public address announcer will be etched in history as the press box at James C. Bailey Stadium is dedicated in his honor by Wallace State, officially becoming the Donald W. Jones Press Box. The Alabama State Board of Education also issued a resolution for the occasion.
Pregame ceremonies, recognizing Jones and baseball coach Randy Putman for achieving 900 career wins earlier this season, will begin at 10:30 a.m., prior to Wallace State's game against Central Alabama.
"Having the press box named after me is one of the greatest honors I've ever had besides the love and pride I have for my family. I've never dreamed of anything like it. I'm really appreciative of coach Putman and (Wallace State President) Dr. Vicki Karolewics for suggesting it be named in my honor and for Dr. Karolewics for following through with it. It's going to be a great honor," said Jones, whose booming voice echoes throughout the entire stadium for all Wallace State home games. "It's simply hard to put into words what this does mean to me. It makes you feel maybe you did something right. It's a real blessing."
After 35 years service in education as a high school teacher, coach, principal and Cullman County Board of Education employee, Jones, 75, wanted to stay busy in retirement. He worked in public relations as vice president of the school bus division of a trucking company, but always made sure to stop by James C. Bailey Stadium on game days to monitor the progress of Putman and the Lions. One afternoon, Jones was asked by Cullman radio personality Jimmy Dale Burgess to provide some extra commentary on the radio broadcast and also handle the public address announcing. He had done the color for radio broadcasts of high school games off and on for years.
It's been Jones's microphone ever since.
"Donald has been a big part of our success here over the years. We met a long time ago and he wanted to be a part of the program any way he could. The real success story behind Donald is how much he has done for all the players who have put on a Wallace State baseball uniform," said Putman, Wallace State's Hall of Fame coach, who is in his 25th year with the Lions. "Donald is a grandfather to all of our players. Most of our players are away from home, and he is always there to give advice or to give them a shoulder to lean on. Donald means a lot to me because he is there to teach them there are things much more important in life than baseball. I know our players are in good hands because Donald cares about them."
During his time associated with the Wallace State baseball program, Jones has served more than just as a public address announcer. He has volunteered his time by organizing travel arrangements on the road and conducting weekly Bible studies for the players each year.
"Getting to know the players through those Bible studies means more than anything. We do it each Wednesday at 8 p.m., and it's open to anyone who wants to come. That Bible study led to two players being baptized and accepting Christ a couple of years ago, and I think that's one of my favorite accomplishments. That makes me feel better than making a home run call," Jones said.
Jones has battled some health issues over the past couple of years and spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital earlier this season. The love and support he received from former Wallace State players while in the hospital was overwhelming.
"This year has been different because I've not been able to be at the ballpark as much as I've wanted. It makes you realize you don't know how much you love something until you have to give up some of it. I've had to give up some, so it hurts I haven't been able to get as close to the freshmen as I usually do," Jones said. "It meant a lot when I was in the hospital to get the phone calls and texts I did from different players. Craig Kimbrel called me, Derek Holland called me and different ballplayers and parents I haven't seen or five or 10 years reached out to me. I couldn't have asked for anything more."
Jones is excited to share the day with Putman.
"Randy (Putman) and I have been friends ever since he got here. We developed a friendship through baseball and it's now a close friendship. I consider Randy one of my best friends," Jones said.
Putman reached his 900th career win at Wallace State on March 27 after a 7-2 victory over Lawson State. Putman will be presented with a plaque before Saturday's game, signifying the recent milestone.
"Getting to 900 is a thrill for me. I'm extremely proud for my former players. It brings back a lot of memories. Baseball is the greatest game in the world because it's made for the memories. I've had so many great memories. It means I've exchanged lineups a lot of times and made a lot of pitching changes," said Putman after the win on March 27. "There are a lot of reasons it's a thrill to me and a lot of reasons that have played into the success here, starting with the administration and working all the way down."
Putman has guided the Lions to the postseason in 23 of his previous 24 seasons at the college, winning seven state championships and making six National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) World Series appearances, the last occurring in 2006. He was inducted into the Alabama Junior College Hall of Fame in 1991, the NJCAA Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Alabama Coaches Hall of Fame in January 2009.
At Wallace State, Putman coached current major league players Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves, a three-time NL All-Star, Derek Holland of the Texas Rangers and Jake Elmore of the Oakland Athletics. Overall, Putman has coached 31 players who went on to play professionally after their Wallace State careers, including former infielder Zelous Wheeler, who is playing in Triple-A for the New York Yankees organization.