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The write stuff: Reds' Todd Jones doubles as columist

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2004

CINCINNATI At this moment, Reds reliever Todd Jones is facing a different kind of pressure.

He stares straight ahead, eyes narrowed in concentration. The cursor is blinking. The screen is blank. The right word is elusive.

No catcher can help him here.

''I know what I want to say, but sometimes I don't know how to say it,'' Jones said.

Anyone with a deadline knows the feeling.

For most of his 12 years in the majors, Jones has been a writer as well as a righty. He writes weekly newspaper and magazine columns, answers hundreds of e-mails from readers and tries to give fans an inside perspective.

It's an uncommon combination, even in the Internet era of online chats and celebrity Web sites produced by someone other than the athlete. The Reds reliever writes his own columns and states his opinions on issues that other athletes would just as soon avoid.

Steroids in baseball. Gays in the clubhouse. Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame.

''It is very unusual for an active player to write about the game that he's still playing and to give a behind-the-scenes look,'' said Tom Arenberg, sports editor of The Birmingham News which Jones writes a regular column for during the baseball season. ''It's something most players would never think of doing and would never want to do.''

Jones, 36, always has enjoyed writing. As a schoolboy in Georgia, he learned that his talent for stringing words together came in handy.

''I was always kind of good at it,'' he said. ''I always did all right on essay tests because I was good at talking about the same thing two or three different ways.''

When his major league career took root in the 1990s with Houston, he was already thinking ahead. He hooked up with The Anniston Star in Alabama, writing a column during the season that gave insights into a major leaguer's life.

''I figured it would help me after baseball,'' said Jones, who lives in Pell City, Ala.

He's had plenty of time to build his clips file.

Jones' career has spanned 12 years, six teams and nearly 700 appearances. He tied for the AL lead with 42 saves for Detroit in 2000 and reached 30 saves in two other seasons. Along the way, he shared his exploits through the two newspapers and the Sporting News.

''It's pretty amazing that he's sustained this for going on four years,'' said Stan McNeal, managing editor of the magazine that has run his weekly ''Closer'' column for that long. ''We talked about this about two years ago, how he was embracing the idea of being a writer and trying to come up with lines. He's trying to evolve. I think he's pretty into it now.''

Jones even has his own Reds media credential, displaying his team photo. One day, he wandered up to a group of reporters in the clubhouse, credential around his neck and paper in hand, and inquired, ''What's everybody writing about today?''

He doesn't need much help with story ideas. He consults an editor, organizes his thoughts and taps away on his laptop on team flights. He has written about throwing at hitters, losing his job, preparing to pitch and everything in between.

''I think what's good about my perspective is I can relate more to the regular fan because I'm not a superstar,'' he said. ''I'm just a guy passing through the game. I kind of enjoy that.''

Fans seem to enjoy his approach. He estimates that he gets between 100 and 150 e-mails per week his address is attached to the columns and up to 500 when he addresses a touchy subject.

There have been a few of those.

He insisted that Rose doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball. He suggested that players are to blame for the steroid controversy. He wrote that it would be uncomfortable having an openly gay player in the clubhouse.

The fans wrote back. Some were supportive, others disagreed. Some were polite, others downright nasty.

''I try to answer most of them,'' Jones said. ''Some people write books. It's like for some people, I'm their therapist about what's going on or what's wrong with the teams I've been on. Sometimes I'm a whipping boy. Sometimes people just want to talk to you.''

He hasn't gotten much negative reaction from teammates over the years, most likely because he's careful when he criticizes. He's more interested in giving a viewpoint than in creating a stir.

''Todd does it in a good way, in a way that's not going to offend anybody,'' said Danny Graves, the Reds' literal closer rather than their literary one. ''That's why I don't think any players would mind that he does it. I think it's great.

''I couldn't do it. I hated writing one-page book reports.''

Jones is toying with the idea of writing a book after he retires, although it wouldn't be a tell-all work aimed at making headlines. He feels a responsibility to the game and appreciates the impact of the printed word.

''The power of the pen is pretty important,'' he said.



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