Travis "In the Zone" Jones

Travis Jones was an unknown commodity for Gamecock fans coming into the 2007 baseball season. After his breakout performance of recent weeks that earned him National Player of the Week and SEC Player of the Week honors, everyone knows who he is as a player. To gain insight into the man behind the hot bat and his almost error-less glove, read inside for the compelling story.

Some answers, though specific in content, can reveal the most undesirable of faults. For example, "Yeah, but she has a great personality" tells more about looks than personality. Have you ever smiled while uttering the words, "Wow, that's, um, a unique name?" Obviously, that comment translates into, "Ugh! Who named you that?"

In the 2007 media guide, newcomer Travis Jones is described as "a great competitor, tremendously hard worker and an outstanding defensive player." In other words, he probably can't hit SEC pitching, but we needed someone with a reliable glove.

When Travis started the year hitting around .240, he seemed like a typical second baseman. You know the kind – great competitor, hard worker…

What no one saw coming was Travis emulating his favorite athlete: Miquel Tejada, a power hitting middle infielder who can tattoo the ball. When teammates James Darnell and Justin Smoak crush a ball over a scoreboard it comes as no surprise. Surpassing six feet and 200 pounds, both look like traditional sluggers. Not Jones though. At 5'9" (in thick soled shoes, maybe) Jones looks small from the stands, and his stature does nothing to set him apart. It's when you meet him up close in person though that you realize his muscle mass.

His potential has always been there, his skills have been honed constantly, but it's the muscle mass, according to Jones, that is new, "I got much stronger since I've been here. Billy's done a good job," referring to Strength and Conditioning Coach Billy Anderson, "In JUCO we didn't work out that hard."

So many athletes take their success for granted. Egos the sizes of Mount Everest are built because of media, fans and success. It's different with Jones though. The first thing one notices about him is the smile. He's so thankful to be here – so appreciative to be in this situation. You can't ask him a question without the smile and the infectious laugh that inevitably follows. It's as genuine and refreshing as any Division I athlete you'll ever talk to. Jones has the kind of personality that makes you hope he runs a baseball school for children one day, and your kids or grandkids are fortunate enough to attend there.

To say the last twelve months have been quite an eventful journey for Jones would be an understatement. Jones has gone from Lake City Community College to big time SEC baseball. He's gone from the guy who gets the "hard worker" label to the guy who gets talked about by the other team. He's gone from the new guy to one of the main guys.

After each game Travis would shake hands and then run to the locker room while teammates like Smoak, Honeycutt and Darnell spoke to reporters. He's now one of the players reporters look for first. To keep the angelic personality and the never die attitude in check would be almost impossible. To recover from the early season slump in a new program – a program that expects nothing short of Omaha – would be equally as impossible. Not Jones though; he wasn't raised that way.

Speaking of his mother Latricia Jones, Travis says, "She pushed me to be the man I am today. When I got down on myself, she would be there to lift me up. She's a great woman. She's been there for me through thick and thin."

"She's ecstatic right now. I wish she was here right now." Jones looked reflectful as he spoke of her back home in Georgia. She has only been able to make it to a handful of his games this season, but he hears her smile across the phone line when he calls her after each game.

As if the smile on her face weren't enough to keep him determined, Jones goes further, stating that not only is she his driving force, but she's twice the parent most are: "I'm from a single parent household. She's been like my backbone."

Latricia Jones says she knew right away that he was different, "I put a ball in Travis hands at about nine months. He was always coordinated. It was like a blessing from God. I thought it was a little bizarre. He could throw it right to you. He was so accurate. He would always catch the ball too - always."

Growing up in Stone Mountain, Georgia in a single parent household, she found solace in his affinity for sports, "He always loved sports. They kept him away from trouble. It was nice to know there was something he had an interest in."

When asked if any of his current success surprises her, Mama Jones hesitated before answering, "That's hard to say. He's doing really well, but at the same time I always knew he could carry his own weight."

He's faced the pressure and the heightened expectations that come with success in a way that defies normal human behavior. In a hot streak that Coach Tanner says he's never seen anything like – ever, Jones does the opposite. When asked about the new expectations from fans, he loosened up even more, "Nah. I just try to get a base hit. There's no pressure at all, really."

With all of the fanfare though, it's easy to see where Travis got the ability to remain focused. Mrs. Jones overflowed with joy upon his decision to attend South Carolina, but urges him to keep things in perspective, "I was happy when he chose South Carolina. It was a good school and I stressed education. His older brother graduated from Jackson State and now he's going for a Masters. Even if Travis goes into the MLB Draft, I still want him to get his degree. It's important to me."

After academics, then there's baseball. Like the days when Travis was younger and sports kept him out of trouble, she also finds solace in the man who guides him, "I love Coach Tanner. He's a good hearted man. I know Travis loves him and that's all I need to know."

Keeping His Ego in Check

Road room-mates with another slugger, James Darnell, it must be fun to hear them volley back and forth about the home runs. "Nah, Nah. We don't really think about that. We just play the game."

He's humble too because posed with the same question, equally as angelic James Darnell says, "We joke about it all the time. We've been telling him, ‘Man, you're gonna' hit like 45 home runs if you keep hitting two a game. The game at Elon he hit two to dead center."

Now that the truth is out, you can see how he's remained humble. Maybe it was the early season slump that keeps him honest. Maybe it's his mother's influence. She says if Travis ever were to develop an egotistical charisma about him, "I wouldn't stand for it. He knows that. But that's not Travis. He'd never do that."

Either way, he's never been a home run hitter and never thought of himself as one either, "I just try to live in the gaps."

Coaches Tanner and Lee have helped him learn to keep his hands back and reduce his leg kick, helping him to see the ball longer and drive it harder. Switching from the eighth spot in the line up to second has given him a bigger selection of pitches to hit. He's also now protected in the line up by the likes of Darnell and All-American Justin Smoak. In other words, you'd be crazy to pitch around him even though he may be the hottest player in America right now not named Alex Rodriguez.

His greatest asset lies in his versatility. The new-found power has, in no way, taken from his ability to play "small ball." Not only can he crush the ball, but he can take a pitch, single up the middle and steal a base too. Rarely does a player who leads a top 5 team in steals (10) also find himself amongst the team leaders in power – especially this team. The Gamecocks are the top home run hitting team in the nation and Jones has a lot to do with it.

However, Jones maintains his approach to "live in the gaps" has not changed during the home run barrage. He's right; he does live in the gaps – they are just a lot farther away. They're called "parking lots."

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