- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

KISSIMMEE, Fla. Andruw Jones managed a pretty remarkable feat last season.
No, it wasn't the 34 homers, or the 104 RBI, or the fourth straight Gold Glove. It was doing all that and still managing to be regarded as a disappointment.
Even Jones will admit it wasn't his best effort.
"I did all right," he said. "Maybe I wasn't mentally focused. Maybe I didn't fully concentrate. Maybe the pitchers adjusted to what I did the year before."
Now, with a $75 million contract extension and a new mentor in former National League MVP Terry Pendleton, Jones can resume the quest to live up to nearly impossible expectations.
Anything less than being one of the game's greatest players won't be enough.
"If he ever settles down and does what I think he can do," said Pendleton, the Braves new hitting coach, shaking his head as he ponders the possibilities. "Well, if you think he's something special defensively, he can be something special, period."
Jones is generally regarded as the game's best defensive centerfielder, but that tells only part of the story. He's got three 30-homer seasons. He's driven in 104 runs each of the last two years. He's batted over .300. He's surpassed 20 stolen bases four times.
All that and he won't even turn 25 until next month.
"People don't understand," Pendleton said. "You don't mature as a baseball player until you're 27 to 30. He needs time to do so. You forget he's that young because he's been in the league for six years."
In 1996, Jones set a pretty high bar for himself when he made the jump from A-ball to the majors in just under two months. Only 19, he became just the second player to homer in his first two World Series at-bats at Yankee Stadium, of all places.
Jones became a full-time starter the next season, beginning a career that has been both spectacular and enigmatic.
For all the diving catches, he can't shake the perception that he's a little too lackadaisical about his job. Manager Bobby Cox once pulled Jones from a game because he didn't think the outfielder was hustling.
In 2000, Jones had something of a breakout season by hitting .303 with 36 homers and 104 RBI. The Braves had every reason to believe he was about to put up some truly remarkable numbers last year.
Instead, Jones reported for spring training a bit overweight and never recovered. He struck out a career-high 142 times. His stolen bases dipped to a career-low 11. His on-base percentage was a mediocre .312. He was especially helpless in July and August, hitting a mere .201.
At the end of the season, hitting coach Merv Rettenmund was fired in large part because of the belief he wasn't getting through to Jones.
"A lot of times, I've seen him swing the bat with his rear end in the dugout," Pendleton said. "Hitting is like a building. You've got to have a strong foundation. His was not strong."
Jones' off-balance swing was especially painful to watch. Pitchers quickly learned they could get him out by throwing off the plate, knowing he would try to pull the ball for a homer instead of going to right for a single.
"I'm sure the team isn't happy with the way I played last year," Jones said, relaxing at his spring training locker. "I struck out too much. I didn't have a good on-base percentage. I'm working on it right now."
Jones is so naturally gifted that he often comes across as lazy. His sleepy eyes and laid-back demeanor give the impression that he doesn't really care.
"At times, he's misunderstood," Pendleton said. "He works very hard. He wants to be the best he can be. But there's ways to communicate with him. He wants to know you're in his corner. If there's any sign of [wavering], he's going to back off."
So Pendleton has taken a gentler approach than Rettenmund.
"I'm not going to rip the kid," Pendleton said. "If I have something to say to him, I'll pull him aside."
Jones had off-the-field problems to contend with in 2001, as well. He took the stand in the highly publicized trial of a strip club owner, testifying he had sex in an Atlanta hotel with two women from the club.
He insists it had nothing to do with his job struggles.
"I'm a young guy who went to a hotel with two girls," said Jones, who is single with a 4-year-old daughter. "They [prosecutors] were just trying to bring an athlete down. I didn't make a big deal out of it. I didn't do nothing wrong."
Jones appears to be forging a strong relationship with Pendleton, whom he played with in the final 11/2 months of the 1996 season. In fact, Jones was called up from the minors on the same day Pendleton rejoined the Braves in a trade.
Jones also figures to benefit from Atlanta's offseason moves, which included a trade for cleanup hitter Gary Sheffield and the signing of Vinny Castilla.
In spring training, Jones spent most of his time batting second between speedster Rafael Furcal and slugger Chipper Jones. There should be plenty of good pitches in that spot.
Jones has taken steps to settle down. He stunned the Braves and his agent, Scott Boras by agreeing to a contract extension that runs through 2007.
Accompanied by his father, Jones agreed to the deal rather than wait for free agency at the end of the season, with the potential for a much bigger contract.
"Money is not that big a deal," he said. "You need money, but being comfortable is more important. I'm in a place I like."
Jones also got engaged to his girlfriend of four years. They plan to marry after the season.
"I'm going to step up and try to make a family," Jones said. "You get respect when you have a family. People think you're going to be more responsible.
"Maybe they were thinking I was wild all the time, that I would come to play the game but I didn't care about anything. Maybe that perception will change."

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