Watauga jerseys retired
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Both played baseball for Watauga High School. Both were sluggers on offense, and both had lively fastballs when pitching.
Each player was drafted into professional baseball. The San Francisco Giants picked Jones in the second round of the 2012 draft, while Greene was an eighth-round selection by the Texas Rangers in 2007.
They have something else in common. Both had their jerseys retired at a ceremony during halftime at the Watauga's boys' basketball game against Wilkes Central Wednesday.
No other Watauga baseball player will ever wear Greene's No. 26 and Jones' No. 9. The two numbers join the three previously retired jerseys of Will Dicus (No. 6), Drew Newell (No. 12) and Bobby Welborn (No. 14).
"It's an honor to have my jersey retired," Jones said. "It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life. I appreciate Watauga putting all this together for me."
Greene agreed with Jones.
"It's definitely an honor," Greene said. "I'm thankful for everybody, for (Pioneers coach Pete) Hardee and for my parents who stayed with me and pushed me -- it's an honor for this to happen."
Greene left Watauga as the Pioneers' record holder with 11 home runs in the 2004 season. Jones tied that mark in the 2012 season, his last with the Pioneers.
Their arrival to Watauga is much different. Greene is a Watauga County native who also excelled as a fullback on the Pioneers' football team. A 2004 graduate, Greene batted .561 in his senior season with 38 RBIs and 46 hits.
"It was unbelievable," Greene said. "All your memories are about all of your friends and traveling to games. It's baseball. It's fun."
Greene also rapped out 19 doubles for the Pioneers. He won the school's Trailblazer Award for being Watauga's top male athlete in 2004, and was all-Northwestern Conference as a pitcher and catcher.
Jones tied Greene's home run record with 11 in 2012. He also set his own school record of 43 RBIs during that season, his only one at Watauga.
"They are two of the best hitters we've ever had," Hardee said. "It shows in the record books with the home runs. You start looking at their stats and they were very similar with the home runs and the RBIs and runs scored and doubles. Their batting averages were high."
Greene was one of the top hitters in the Northwestern Conference during his era, which stretched from 2001-04. His hitting battles with former Alexander Central pitcher Matt Payne, who eventually played third base when he signed with N.C. State, had everybody's attention when they took place.
Hardee also would stay close to the safety of the Watauga dugout when Greene, a right-handed batter, would be at the plate.
"When he would get a hold of an inside pitch, it was scary sometimes," Hardee said. "He did have a quick bat."
Hardee remembered a day when scouts from Western Carolina were on hand to watch Greene take batting practice. Greene took Hardee's advice on how to impress them.
"Jonathan sprayed the ball around, which is why he had so many doubles," Hardee said. "He would go to right center a lot. I remember when Western Carolina came to watch him play and take BP before a playoff game and he was hitting everything to right center. I told him that, 'Jonathan, they are here to see what kind of power you've got.' He turned around and hit five over the fence right in a row."
The power show must have paid off since Greene signed with Western Carolina, where he hit .331 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs in 62 games. He was a preseason all-American and a 2007 all-Southern Conference selection his senior season.
Two players, including former McDowell standout and current Kansas City Royals pitcher Greg Holland, were on that team that finished 41-20 and reached the NCAA regionals.
Greene hit 14 home runs with 57 RBIs that season under coach Todd Raleigh.
"I love it. I loved every second of it," Greene said of playing at Western Carolina. "I wouldn't trade that for the world."
Greene eventually left professional baseball after five years in the Rangers' organization, where he reached the Double-A level. He hit 83 home runs and drove in 326 runs in 509 games.
"It's definitely a business," Greene said. "You get paid to play and you get to hang out with your buddies and play baseball. It's hard to beat that life."
Greene works for his father's grading business. He married his current wife, Katie, in 2011, and they have a daughter, Savannah.
"I'm just hanging out in Boone working for my dad," Greene said. "Just getting on with my life, having a baby, getting married and enjoying life."
Jones was a transfer student from Stillwater, Okla., after his father, Billy Jones, accepted the job of head baseball coach at Appalachian State.
Expectations were high for Ryder Jones, who was signed a national letter of intent to play at Stanford.
He knew expectations were high, but he helped himself by taking his more demanding classes during the fall semester. It allowed him to take a lighter load during the spring baseball season, so he could better focus on playing for the Pioneers.
It worked academically and athletically. Jones posted a 4.00-weight grade point average, and a .461 batting average. He said playing baseball helped him adjust to a new school and a new community that was nearly 2,000 miles away from where he was the year before.
"It was tough at first," Jones said. "Coming to a new town with a lot expected of you, you don't know what to expect until you get here. I was more anxious than nervous. Once I met coach Hardee and got on to baseball, it was just like back home there."
Hardee remembered that one time a Watauga player was nervous because several scouts, "at least 20," were at a game to watch Jones play. Jones was in the dugout getting a drink of water when the nervous player confided his concerns about his play.
"I told him, 'See where they are all looking? They're more concerned about how (Jones) drinks his water than what anybody else is doing,'" Hardee said.
Jones said his game picked up dramatically after the Pioneers had just lost 2-1 to East Rutherford's junior varsity team in the first round of the East Rutherford Easter Tournament, which drop them to 2-9.
A long practice session, followed by two solid victories in the ensuing games of the tournament, helped the Pioneers close out the season with a 13-2 run and a 15-9 overall record.
"I think it took Ryder a while to get used to the cold weather at the beginning of the season," Hardee said. "Both of them were good hitters and solid defenders and both of them pitched a little, too."
Jones also said he stopped trying to live up to the hype of his arrival and just started to play baseball.
"Maybe the first five or six games I was worried about impressing everyone, kind of living up to the hype a little bit," Jones said. "I tried to hide it, but I was a little anxious trying to impress people. Right after we lost to the JV team, we turned it around and I turned it around."
Jones is back into the business of trying to impress people, only now it's members of the Giants' organization and not pro baseball scouts. He finished his first season of pro baseball with the Arizona Giants of the rookie-A Arizona League where he hit .317 with one home run, 18 RBIs and 29 runs scored.
Greene had a bit of advice for Jones, who is hoping to move up in the Giants' organization this spring.
"Enjoy it," Greene said. "It goes by faster than what you think."