Dan Jones was a pitcher's best friend behind the plate.
The Marietta College catcher and unsung hero often had to use his body to knock down pitches in the dirt. During his four years in the Pioneer pinstripes, very few balls got by him.
As a senior this past spring, Jones was almost perfect, fielding .997.
And, when it came to throwing out baserunners trying to steal, there weren't many backstops better than Jones, who gunned down 46 percent of them (13 of 28).
When Jones was a junior, he nailed 49 percent (17-35) of would-be base stealers.
So, really, folks, it wasn't any big surprise when late last week, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior from Lima was honored as the best defensive catcher in the United States of America by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) at an NCAA Division III Championship banquet in Appleton, Wisc.
Jones was one of nine players to receive a Rawlings D-III Gold Glove Award.
Earlier in the week, Jones and teammate John Snyder were regional Gold Glove Award recipients, which had put them on the national ballot.
The only thing sweeter to Jones than the Gold Gloves of course would have been the Pioneers competing and winning the 2010 World Series at Grand Chute, Wisc. But that matter was decided the previous Saturday (May 22) when the Etta Express dropped a 6-2 decision to Heidelberg University in the Mideast Regional championhip finals at Don Schaly Stadium.
"As a senior, you obviously go out there and definitely give it your all and everything you got," said Jones after the Heidelberg game. "Toward the end of the season right before tournament time, we (seniors) talked to all of the guys about watching us and how we play. They all followed. I mean, everyone bought in. It was great to see the younger guys follow and come through in big situations.
"The postseason is Marietta's time," the catcher continued, "and we beat a lot of teams that maybe had an edge on us."
The Marietta College baseball team's other seniors were Chris Beatty, Matt DeSico, and Nate Eschbaugh (also a former Marietta Tiger).
"For the seniors, it was a great career," said MC skipper Brian Brewer. "We're certainly appreciative of that."
All in all, Jones enjoyed a solid career for Pioneers - even going to and playing in the 2007 NCAA D-III World Series as a freshman. When he was a sophomore, he batted .308 with four home runs and 21 ribbies, and was an All-Ohio Athletic Conference honoree.
As a junior, Jones was as good as ever as a defensive catcher, but slipped offensively, hitting .246.
This past season, though, Jones bounced back and batted .373, fourth best on the MC team. He also had a 25-game hitting streak.
Overall, he had two dingers and drove in 24 runs, and that, along with his defensive prowess, helped him earn All-OAC honors again and make the All-Mideast Region second team for the first time.
MC historically has a reputation for standout catchers (Jay Coakley, Josh Streit, Lee Guerrera, etc.) on the team. You can add Jones to that long list.
It's going to be interesting to see who fills Jones's big shoes behind the plate next season.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor, and can be reached at 376-5441, or at email@example.com