Warner Jones carried on family tradition at Vanderbilt

April 28, 2016


Commodore History Corner Archive

Elliott Jones (1968-70) was the first Vanderbilt player to be selected to the Major League Baseball draft in 1971. Joining him later with that honor as a MLB draft selection was son Warner (2003-05) who became an All-American as a Commodores second baseman.

Elliott pitched for the Commodores and was selected by Pittsburgh in the 12th round and played in their minor league system. Warner is one of 10 family members to attend Vanderbilt and naturally his dad was an influence on his athletic interest. His mother, Marilyn, was a Vanderbilt basketball and football cheerleader for three years and part of the homecoming court for two years.

“I have a little boy now who is two and I’m not sure if he is interested yet in baseball,” Warner Jones said recently from his Nashville office. “My dad and I played a lot of baseball in the backyard and that’s a good way to bond with your father. I started playing baseball about age seven with Tee-Ball and it looked like I was going to be good at it.

“We focused my energy on playing baseball and ended up on a lot of travel teams where you spend basically the whole summer. We played 100 games by the time I was 16. Most of the summer and part of the fall I played baseball.”

Jones was a three-time All-State and Region 4 Player of the Year as a senior from Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy. He batted .511 as a senior leading MBA to a third-place finish in the State Division II Championships. Jones signed his Vanderbilt scholarship papers to Vanderbilt in the fall of his senior year. Roy Mewbourne (1979-2002) was the Vanderbilt coach at the time and soon retired after 24 seasons. Tim Corbin was selected to replace Mewbourne.

“They both recruited me,” said Jones. “Coach Corbin was at Clemson and recruited me there. By the time I went to Vanderbilt he gave me a hard time because I would not answer his recruiting letters or return his calls when he was at Clemson. I actually went to Clemson as a showcase when I was a sophomore and it really didn’t register as a place I wanted to spend my four years of college.

“Coach Mewbourne recruited me when I was in high school. He didn’t retire until after the season when I was playing summer ball. I wanted to see what happened, but most of my contacts were with Coach Scott Stricklin and Coach [John] Barlowe at the time. It was thought that Coach Stricklin might become the head coach then Coach Corbin got the job. Obviously, there was no thought of going anywhere else.”

Corbin had been an assistant coach at Clemson for nine seasons before his arrival at Vanderbilt. He has built the Vanderbilt baseball program into arguably the top and most successful in the country. Jones experienced a huge jump from high school baseball to college. He knew instantly that Vanderbilt baseball was on the rise.

“A lot of guys coming in that first year didn’t know what we were getting into in college baseball,” said Jones. “In high school baseball we took infield and batting practice everyday. That was our practice and all we did. When we got to Vanderbilt Coach Corbin got us in a room and talked about what he wanted to do in the conference and our goals. I’m sure we had a different view than any other class.

“The guys behind us knew what they were getting into and the older guys had experienced something else and had to transition to another way of life. He was pretty tough. He knew what he was going to do and he did it. He wore us out that first year and half as the team moved on. When he got his guys in there everything worked out, but we had some pretty good players. The cupboard was not bare when he got there.

“We had Jeremy Sowers [pitcher] a first round selection out if high school. He got Scott Shapiro as a transfer and he was one of the top players in the country. There were about eight players drafted from that 2004 team. There was a lot of talent there and he knew how to mold them into something that worked together.”

As a freshman in 2003, Warner started all 55 of Vanderbilt’s games. Jones led the team in hits (70), at-bats (227) while batting .308. The 5-10, 180-pounder clubbed three home runs and 25 RBIs. The Commodores were 27-28 (14-16 SEC).

Jones would not forget his first college game were he faced a future Cy Young pitcher and perennial Major League All-Star.

“One of the reasons I went to Vanderbilt was anticipating that I was going to play and it never crossed my mind about sitting on the bench,” said Jones. “It worked out well that I played every single game when I was there. In our first game we were in Charleston playing Old Dominion.

“The match-up was Jeremy Sowers versus Justin Verlander. We lost 2-0. My friend Rucker Taylor and I each got two hits off him. Verlander’s last pitch of the game was 96 miles per hour where he stuck out Worth Scott. Another memory for me was hitting a home run against LSU at home. I did have a couple on the road. That year I walked three times and got to swing at a lot of pitches.”


The Commodores played Tennessee at home in the final series of the regular season. Vanderbilt needed a three-game sweep to earn a SEC Tournament berth. The `Dores won the first two games 7-4 and 9-1. The Vols just needed one victory in the series to make the tournament themselves. But, right-fielder Scott would record one of the Commodores most dramatic and historic finishes with a ninth inning miracle. Vanderbilt was trailing, 5-4.

“It was the last game of the regular season and I was hitting before him [Scott], “said Jones. “I had gotten a single with one out and broke up a double play at second base. Jonathan Douillard was hitting behind me and hit a ground ball to the shortstop. [Jones was out at second base and the shortstop’s throw to first base was off line and in the dirt and Douillard was safe at first base]. Rucker Taylor was put in as a pinch runner for Jonathan. He was the runner on board when Worth hit that home run.”

That historic two-run, walk-off blast by Scott, a .183 batter, put Vanderbilt into the tournament for the first time since 1996. UT’s Luke Hochevar, a future and current Major League pitcher, gave up the pitch that landed over the right-field wall. It became “The Shot Heard Around West End.” However, the Commodores were quickly eliminated from the tournament with losses to Auburn (3-1) and South Carolina (3-2).

Tennessee and Vanderbilt have been rivals in football and basketball for decades. How much of a rivalry is there between the intrastate universities in baseball?

“We were fortunate when I was there to go 7-2,” Jones said. “Baseball is not the same as in football. There is not as much rah rah and adrenaline pumping in you. Fans might get up for the baseball game, but at least when I was playing there was not a roar in the crowd.

“There is a different energy when you play different teams. You definitely knew it was Tennessee and you wanted to do your best. Baseball is a lot about concentration and you don’t want to get too over excited and out perform what you can do.”

Jones recorded a huge record-breaking year in his sophomore season. Vanderbilt registered a then school record for wins 45-19 (16-14 SEC) and made its first-ever trip to a Super Regional. Jones led the SEC in batting (.414) and a team record 111 hits. The hits remain a Vanderbilt single-season record and the .414 average ranks fourth all-time. Other accolades for Jones include First Team All-SEC and First Team All-American.

“That was a fun year,” said Jones. “I had played the summer before in the Cape Cod League. It was a surprise that they stuck me in at third base. I played the entire season and batted about .350. I had a lot of confidence. The coach up there helped me learn how to hit with a wood bat that actually translated to hitting with a metal bat in college.

“Seeing those pitchers up there really helped me. I started out hot and really didn’t cool down. I got hit in the back of the neck against South Carolina at home. That shook me up a little bit. I had similar success the rest of the regular season. But I probably wasn’t quite as comfortable at the plate.”

Vanderbilt advanced to the championship game in the SEC Tournament before losing to South Carolina, 3-2. Jones was selected to the SEC All-Tournament Team. The Commodores were selected to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 24 years. Playing in Charlottesville, the Commodores swept to a Regional championship with wins over George Mason (7-3), Princeton (11-1) and Virginia (7-3).

“One of the great memories from that season was playing Virginia when we got down 3-0 in the first inning,” said Jones. “Matt Buschmann was pitching and we had three errors in the first inning. I remember looking at Ryan Klosterman at shortstop and laughing about it. We were so confident that we were going to beat them.

“We were making all these mistakes and knew Coach Corbin was fuming in the dugout. We got hot and scored a bunch of runs. Getting on the bus after the Regional and going to Texas we thought we were going to carry the momentum in there, but they were pretty good. They scored about 10 runs per game and that was a rough way to end the season. It was beyond anyone’s expectations.”

Vanderbilt lost to Texas in the Super Regionals in Austin in two straight games, 15-3 and 10-2. The next season Jones average dipped to .290 and Vanderbilt did not reach the SEC Tournament at 34-31 (13-17 SEC).

“In the summer of my sophomore year I was playing for the same team in the Cape,” said Jones. “In a game, I dove for a ball and got the glove caught under me and tore some cartilage and ligaments in my left wrist. I hit over .300 that year. I came back and thought I could play through it.

“I took cortisone shots to numb the pain, but I wasn’t able to swing the bat the way I used to. I don’t know if I hesitated because I thought it was going to hurt. We had a lot of talent coming back. We started the season 12-0 and ranked about eighth in the country playing Baylor at home. We had beaten them two-of-three the year before. They swept us.

“Then we went to Mississippi State and lost two-of-three games after losing the lead late in the game. That season we had a decent amount of wins. It was a bit of a shock that we didn’t make the SEC Tournament. We felt like what we experienced in 2004 all we needed was a chance. Jenson Lewis and Ryan Mullins were third-rounders. We had two guys that could get wins. And we still had Buschmann pitching.”

Jones decided to leave school early with one year of eligibility left. He was drafted by Detroit in the 17th round of the MLB draft.

“With my size and background I always thought I was going to play Major League baseball,” said Jones. “I was in a place where I’d expect to be drafted. I had done the best I could. Once I had gone through my three years at Vanderbilt people knew what I could do and couldn’t do.

“You only get so many shots. I thought if I’m in a position I’m going to make a run for it to see what I could do. It ended up that I couldn’t work it out with the Tigers over my wrist injury. So I came back to Nashville to have surgery on my wrist. When I was rehabbing it never got back to the point where I performed the way I expected. I never signed a contract.”

Jones earned a law degree from Vanderbilt and has joined his father as an attorney in Nashville. He started in all of Vanderbilt’s games in three seasons and holds the school record in a single season for hits (111), tied with most RBIs (74) and tied with most doubles (27). His .414 batting average ranks fourth best all-time.

For his career, Jones played in 174 games, batting .341 (250-for-733) with 20 home runs and 134 RBIs. Jones said that his most memorable moment wearing a Commodore baseball uniform came in the first game of the Super Regionals against Texas where he hit a home run.

Said Jones, “We played in LSU, Arkansas and South Carolina where they had a ton of fans. But the atmosphere is a lot different when the College World Series is on the line. Hitting a home run in front of that crowd and hearing it go quiet was amazing.”

Jones was asked about being a former Vanderbilt student-athlete.

“I grew up a Vandy fan my whole life watching the football and basketball teams and even to a lesser degree the baseball team. At the time the stadium was not what it is today and a baseball game at Vanderbilt was not an event like it is today. Getting into Vanderbilt and following in the footsteps of my grandfather and father was really great.

“Being such a fan that when baseball was over for me maybe my path would be to get into athletic administration. A dream job would be the athletic director at Vanderbilt. I’m a homebody and wouldn’t want to go outside of Nashville to live. My family and friends are here. I basically made the march down West End so it seems like a final place to help the school.”

Traughber’s Tidbit: Warner’s grandfather, Ernest Jones, earned his master’s degree in physics at Vanderbilt in 1942. He was recruited by Columbia University to work on what became the Manhattan Project that led to the construction of the atomic bombs that ended World War II. Jones joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1950 as a professor of physic where he remained for 37 years. He died at age 97 this past December.

Tidbit Two: Former Vanderbilt pitcher Matt Buschmann (2003-06) made his major league debut on April 10, 2016 at age 32. He pitched the ninth inning in relief for Arizona in a 7-3 loss to the Cubs, walking one and giving up a hit without being involved in the decision. The Missouri native was sent back to Triple-A Reno one week later after playing in three games all from the bullpen. The right-hander pitched 4.1 innings with a 2.08 ERA giving up two hits and three strikeouts. Buschmann was drafted by San Diego in the 15th round of the 2006 MLB amateur draft. He spent 10 years in the minor leagues with multiple teams and six major league franchises, and is married to ESPN anchor Sarah Walsh. Buschmann’s minor league totals include an 84-70 record in 283 games (216 starts) with a 4.08 ERA in 1,332 innings pitched and 1,102 strikeouts.

If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraugber@aol.com. This will be the final Commodore History Corner story for this school year.