It doesn’t take long for Casey Jones’ focus to shift after Elon University baseball games.
After the Phoenix beat Campbell University 2-1 April 2, the junior first baseman/outfielder had one thing on his mind before head coach Mike Kennedy’s postgame talk: candy.
“He came out to the huddle; he already had a bag of candy in his hand,” Kennedy said. “I guess we shook hands, and he ran over [to the dugout] and grabbed it, or he had it in his pocket. I don’t know how he got it that quick.”
Referred to as a “sugar freak” by Kennedy, Jones has shown bursts of energy all season on the field for Elon. He’s one of just two players to have started all 32 games thus far for the Phoenix, and for a good reason. He’s hitting .398 with 34 runs batted in.
Amid errors and a constant rotation of 16 newcomers to the lineup, Jones has been a constant for Elon since February.
“He gets everyone going,” sophomore catcher Danny Lynch said. “He’s really carrying this team right now.”
Jones is listed on the roster as a utility player. During the last two years, he’s been a role player in the lineup as well. Though he started in 62 games in his first two seasons at Elon, Jones was not regarded as a source of power at the plate. He had just 13 extra-base hits in those two years and no home runs.
Playing primarily at first base with some stops in left field, Jones has changed that impression this year. He leads the team with 13 doubles and three home runs.
“This fall, I hit really well,” Jones said. “I worked really hard, especially over Christmas break, those three weeks where we were home. I was hitting every day. It’s paid off for me a lot so far.”
That impact was felt immediately, as he hit Elon’s first home run of the season — in the team’s first game — Feb.16 against the University of Cincinnati. Jones has amassed 69 total bases, 31 more than the next closest Elon player.
“He’s still not a home run hitter, he’s a gap-to-gap doubles type of guy,” Kennedy said. “We thought over time that would come. We didn’t think he’d hit .400, but we thought he’d hit some doubles. His swing allows him to hit the ball in gaps.”
Consistency is what’s allowing Jones to stand out from his teammates. Of his 32 starts, he’s hit safely in 28 of them. Jones is currently on an 18-game hitting streak, the longest of his career, and has reached base in each of the last 22 games dating back more than a month.
“I’m feeling good right now,” Jones said. During this stretch, he has doubled six times and homered twice while driving in 15 runs.
“His approach has gotten better,” junior outfielder Quinn Bower said. “He knows what pitch he hits well. I don’t know why they’re giving it to him, but when they give it to him, he’s not missing.”
Jones has been able to square up opposing pitching well, and his teammates and coaches attribute that to his consistent work ethic. Kennedy said he takes extra batting practice every day and has improved in the weight room during his time at Elon.
Jones brings an easygoing, bright atmosphere to Latham Park each day, and it’s translating for him at the plate. That shows in his walk-up song as well, which is “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child, a hit from 1999.
As he strolls to the plate, “Say my name, say my name. If no one is around you, say ‘baby I love you’” plays over the speakers.
“It’s unbelieveable,” senior pitcher Ryan Pennell said. “He’s the same guy every day. He comes to the park and prepares the same way, doesn’t get lax. He puts good swings on every single ball, and when you do that, you’re going to hit .400.”
After losing 16 players from last year’s Southern Conference championship team, Jones and other veterans knew someone had to step up and fill the void. He said he didn’t feel much pressure to do so, which turned into a positive.
“For the most part, everybody’s doing their role to play a part in our success,” Jones said. “I knew I had to step up and produce a little more than I did last year. That’s the goal every year.”
When it comes to leadership, Bower said Jones has taken on more responsibility than in past years and is someone the team follows on and off the field. On a team with just two seniors, that was a must for someone in his third year at Elon.
Jones said he and other players have shown the new players the ropes and helped them adjust in more ways than one.
“I’ve tried to show these guys what to do to be a leader,” Jones said. “Off the field as well, with freshmen adjusting to college. We have good chemistry on this team, especially with a bunch of new guys.”
Off the field, Jones just likes to sit back and relax — and eat. He enjoys going to Anna Maria’s Pizzeria and Restaurant in nearby Gibsonville, where he orders the baked spaghetti with garlic knots.
He also noted that while Chick-fil-A is his “go-to” restaurant, he only eats at the off-campus location because it has spicy chicken sandwiches and cookies.
“Everyone’s like, ‘I don’t get it, all he eats is candy,’” Pennell said. “Candy and Chick-fil-A. What [candy] doesn’t he eat? Hot Tamales, Milky Ways, Snickers, basically anything. That’s where all his meal money goes.”
But for Elon, it doesn’t matter what sweets Jones is eating off (or on) the field, only that he continues to find the sweet spot on his bat.