Counting down the days

One face that Tiger fans have grown accustomed to on Saturday's in Death Valley is that of sophomore Chad Jones. Yet, Jones looks to make a lasting mark for the first time on the baseball field this spring, and he is one week away from finding out if that dream will become a reality.

Chad Jones was no stranger to being a top two-sport athlete coming out of Southern Lab in high school, earning playing time immediately on the Tiger football field as well as being taken by the Houston Astros in the 13th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball draft.


Jones of course turned down the money, opting to head to LSU and mold himself into one of the top two-sport athletes in the NCAA. Yet, the road began a bit rocky on his quest.


Last season during the Tigers memorable run to Omaha, the 6-foot-3, 222-pound outfielder was nowhere to be found, running into a string of off the field issues that forced him back to the football team full time after the start of spring practice.


Jones appeared in just five games (three starts), batting .154 (2-for-13) with one double and two runs scored. He started one game each in center field, right field and at designated hitter. Jones doubled and scored a run in the Tigers' victory over Michigan State in early March.


On the football field, it was a much different story, seeing action in all 14 of the Tigers games in 2007 as well as 12 in 2008. This past season, Jones came off the bench to record 46 tackles and one interception, looking the part of one of the premier up and coming SEC defensive backs.


Yet, with a new season turning a new leaf in his story, Jones is back with the baseball team, this time looking to make the team by the Feb. 19 cut deadline, one day before the opener against Villanova.


That said, head coach Paul Mainieri realizes the pressure that rides on taking the two sport standout back onto the team. With Jordan Brown's injury and subsequent retirement, the Tigers are working one man down on a 34-man roster.


If Jones stays on, his departure for spring football would leave LSU running through the middle of their schedule down two players, a risk that Mainieri said he is still battling on taking.


"Losing Chad in the middle of things is the challenge, and I have to decide if that is worth it," Mainieri said. "We would have him for the first 14 games, and then lose him for 24 games while he is involved with football, and then we would have him back for the final 18 games.


"That means we have him for 32 of the 56 games, plus the postseason. So, now my feelings are if I have him for 40 games, is it worth it? Right now, it seems to me that it would be."


That being said, where would Jones fit into the Tigers plan of attack?


"Left field is really still up in the air," Mainieri said. "Certainly Blake [Dean] will play some there, but there is a possibility that Chad could be playing a lot of left field, also, which gives us athletes from left to right in Jones, Leon [Landry] and Jared [Mitchell]. He also adds a left hand from the plate, so he fits in well."


With a week until the decision must be rendered, where does Jones stand off the field?


"He sure appears to be in a better place than he was last year," Mainieri said. "He has shown so far that he has grown up. I said I would only do this if I felt Chad could make a big difference and only if I felt that I could depend on Chad. I wanted to make sure that he was doing what he needed to do from an academic standpoint as well as that reliability factor. And with a week left, he has looked spectacular."


A longtime friend of Jones', sophomore Leon Landry said that he has made sure to help his teammate to get back onto his feet on the diamond.


"I sure hope he makes it through, because we really want to see him do well," Landry said. "He has really improved, and he is trying to get out there and take care of his business. I keep calling him to check up on him and make sure that he is doing the right things.


"He is a great guy, and a pretty good ball player. If all this can work for him then I will be right out there shaking his hand and congratulating him after the games like the rest of my teammates, because it will be well deserved."


While the Tigers will be forced to trim their current roster of one more player if they elect to keep Jones, the end result should benefit the Bayou Bengals as they look to pick up where they left off last season.


"Anytime you have to let a kid go, it is not easy, and I am certainly not looking forward to it," Mainieri said. "But right now Chad makes us a better team. You just have to go back and say that he won't be with us for 24 games, and is that worth it? That is what this next week will be about deciding."


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