Adam Jones stepped to the plate in the first inning, saw a familiar face behind the plate and gave the Toronto catcher a warm, welcoming thump.
Quite an unlikely reunion, indeed.
“It was cool,” Blue Jays rookie Danny Jansen said Tuesday. “He hit me on the chest and said, ‘I’m proud of you, man. You made it.’ I’ll never forget it.”
On Monday night, Jansen and the Baltimore Orioles star outfielder met up for the first time in quite a while.
The two hadn’t seen one another since 2004, when Jones lived with the Jansen family in Appleton, Wisconsin, while playing for the local Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Host families are common in the low minors, a way of helping young players settle into the off-the-field routine of pro ball.
Jones was 18 back then, a first-round draft pick in his second season in the Seattle Mariners’ organization. Jansen was 9, an aspiring athlete and, by his own admission, more than a little irritating at times.
“I was young, so any ballplayer in there was a hero to me,” Jansen said of the different minor leaguers who inhabited his family home. “He was the most successful one that we had, baseball-wise. I was always the kid asking for a bat and a ball. He was just like, ‘Get away from me, man, get away from me.'”
Jones did eventually hand a souvenir over to Jansen, but the treasured gift didn’t last too long.
“He finally gave me a bat, and I was fortunate enough to have a batting cage in my backyard,” Jansen recalled. “My brother Matt, who is seven years older than me, he took the bat one day and he was taking BP and he broke it. I was upset about that one, I’ll tell you what. I probably had it for two weeks. I was nine, I couldn’t swing it anyway. I just thought it was cool he finally gave me a bat after a season of me asking for one. The next thing you know, it’s broken.”
After moving up to Double-A the following summer, and later to the majors, Jones kept in touch with Jansen and his family, connecting through text messages and social media.
With their own children now grown and out of the house, the Jansens resumed hosting minor league players this summer.
“They always said it’s nice to have more boys in the house, to just have players and people around,” Jansen said.
Before Tuesday’s game, Jones declined to speak about his relationship with Jansen, offering only a brief assessment of the rookie’s offensive abilities.
“I’ll tell you this: he can hit,” Jones said of Jansen, who entered Tuesday riding a six-game hitting streak to begin his career.
Otherwise, Jones preferred to tell his side of the story through social media. Prior to Monday’s game, the 33-year-old Jones tweeted a welcome to the 23-year-old Jansen.
“Reunited with my old host family @D—Jansen31,” Jones wrote. “So proud of you pimp. From waking me up at 7am before you had to go to school and me getting in at 4am from a loooong bus trip, to playing against each other in the show!!!! This is a Movie.”
In reply, Jansen tweeted “Let’s have some fun big bro.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Jones tweeted a 2004 photograph of himself in a Timber Rattlers uniform, posing alongside a youthful Jansen, who is in his little league uniform
“Hey @D—Jansen31, why you gotta grow up on me!!!!!,” Jones wrote.
“14 years later and you still look the same,” Jansen joked in reply.
Jones and Jansen exchanged more looks and gestures Monday after Jansen flied out to Jones to end the bottom of the first inning. Jones was there to make the catch again when Jansen flied out to right field to begin the sixth in Toronto’s 5-3 win.