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Cy Young Award winner reflects on Legion Baseball experience

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When Randy Jones saved the 1975 Major League Baseball All-Star Game for the National League, the final out was a fly ball to left fielder Gary Carter, who played the majority of his career at catcher.

For Jones, it was an even more unique and special putout. When he pitched for The American Legion team in Fullerton, Calif., Carter was the team’s batboy.

“It was pretty classic that you're shaking everybody's hands and here comes Gary Carter out of left field, and hands me the baseball, after catching it,” recalls Jones, who pitched most of his career with the San Diego Padres. “And I just thought, ‘How surreal is that? It’s come full circle.’ Those are memories I'll never forget.”

Carter, who broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1974, reunited with Jones during batting practice before a Padres-Expos game.

“Both of us had the biggest grins on our face, because of what we went through and the relationship we had in Legion Baseball,” Jones recalled. “It was just phenomenal because we had been friends forever. That started in American Legion Baseball. I just could not believe how special that was.”

Carter is among 81 American Legion Baseball alumni who have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Jones, too, had an impressive MLB career, notably winning the National League Cy Young Award in 1976 when he won 22 games with a 2.74 earned run average for the Padres.

Today, Jones is still affiliated with the Padres and American Legion Baseball (ALB). In fact, he has helped grow ALB in San Diego County where the number of teams has grown from zero two years ago to 22 now.

“The memories I have of American Legion Baseball and those times are special,” he said. “They were special for me and I understand how special they are for these kids today.”

Steve Busby, who also played in the 1975 All-Star Game, was a teammate on the Fullerton Legion team. “Steve and I have been friends all these years. I love running into him when I can,” Jones said. “I'll never forget those days. They were magical.”

Jones remembers playing several times a week, always against strong competition. “I'll never forget those years that I played Legion ball and how much I learned,” he said. “They'll always be special, and that's why I'm involved now. That's why I want to give back to these kids and make sure that a lot of them have the opportunity that I had.”

The Randy Jones Foundation supports children of military veterans. It’s another way that Jones gives back to those who supported him as a teenaged pitcher who never thought he would appear in the major leagues.

“I know we can make a difference in a lot of these kids’ lives to give them the opportunity to chase their dreams,” he said. “We're creating better citizens, better people for our country. Hopefully, if they do that and that they do have a passion and love of the game, they'll get that college scholarship or that opportunity to play in college. I just want to make sure that they have every opportunity.”

The Padres “have been very supportive, as far as in what we're trying to do and what we're trying to achieve in San Diego,” he said. Notably, all 22 Legion Baseball teams wear Padre-themed uniforms.

Jones himself sells one-pound bags of coffee for $15, one-third of which goes to fund ALB in San Diego. He encourages all teams to contribute to the sales effort. “That'll make all the difference in the world. All of a sudden you've raised $15,000-$16,000 for American Legion Baseball, here locally in San Diego. And we can do that, and then go to regionals and compete, and do the things that you really want to do.”

His experience as an ALB player helped Jones continue on as a pitcher with Chapman University before being drafted by the Padres. It was a life-changing experience for sure.

“Legion Baseball gives you an opportunity to continue to play and get better at your game,” he said. “And that's what this game's all about. It's a game of failure, is what baseball is. It's how you handle failure, how you learn from your failures, and that's how you become a really good baseball player. It gives these kids an opportunity to fail and learn to get better. If that burning desire is there to chase that dream, then let's enhance that. Overall, what I see is these kids continue to chase the dream. That's what it's all about.”