In our lifetimes we are lucky to have one deep, lasting passion: something that guides us and defines us, that reminds us of who we are and what we value during times of tumult and uncertainty.
The particular passion itself is less consequential than its importance to you, the meaning it brings you. Cooking, board games, “Star Trek,” writing, fishing — what it is is immaterial, as long it’s yours.
When we attempt to divine the origins of that passion, to trace its roots back to its source, we often find another person standing there, someone teaching us, mentoring us, passing their passion along and keeping it aflame for us — for a new generation.
For many in Litchfield, that passion was — and is — baseball. And that mentor and teacher was Red Jones.
Norman “Red” R. Jones was born on Sept. 19, 1938 in Muskegon Heights, Michigan and died on Nov. 28, 2015 in Litchfield, the city he had called home since 1968.
“Red enjoyed playing pool, softball, darts, paddle tennis and golf,” his obituary states, “but his real passion was baseball.”
Red Jones shared that passion for baseball with thousands during his many years of baseball involvement in Litchfield. In 1977, Jones — who had played for the Raymond Rockets for 16 years — helped bring amateur ball back to Litchfield when he started the Blues, the team he co-managed with Carl Hellzen for two years.
In 1981, Jones started Litchfield Babe Ruth Baseball in town and served as league president for many years before starting Cal Ripken baseball in Litch.
Jones, a charter member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #3424, spearheaded the construction and development of the Eagles little league fields in town. Red also served as the treasurer of the Litchfield Baseball Association for the last 25 years.
For all his time and effort, Jones was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2003, the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013 and the West Central Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
But, more than the accolades, it’s Jones’ impact on those he coached and worked with that will remain his lasting legacy.
Those who remember him best
Those who knew Red Jones remember a caring, kind, patient man who devoted countless hours to the youth of this city.
“He was a good friend of mine, and we’re all hurting on that one,” said Litchfield Blues head coach Rueben Nathe. “It still hurts when you lose a friend, and a friend of baseball especially. He was a big supporter of our program. It’s a big loss. He’ll be hard to replace — I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to.”
“It’s a big loss to youth sports in Litch,” said Dean Urdahl, who coached with Jones and worked on the Litchfield Baseball Association board with him. “You won’t find a man more dedicated to baseball and youth baseball in the state of Minnesota.”
Dean Urdahl’s son Troy remembers Red Jones fondly from his youth playing days growing up in Litchfield. Troy Urdahl is now the athletic director at Saint Anthony Village, where he’s also coached the baseball team since 2002.
“Red is certainly one of the childhood mentors of mine that I look to when I think back on what’s right about youth sports,” Troy Urdahl said. “… If I could be anything like Red myself as a person or coach, it would mean that I have lived a good life.”
Litchfield head baseball coach Jeff Wollin remembers Jones for his relentless optimism and positivity, even when kids were struggling.
Wollin recalls watching a player fail on the field and Red responding with kindness and understanding.
“’Well maybe he just needs a little more experience,’ Red said, instead of ripping on the kid or making of fun them or shaking his head,” Wollin said. “’He probably just needs to play more, just needs a little more coaching.’ He managed to see the bright side of everything, I always thought. It’s probably why everyone liked him.”
“It’s exactly part of what made Red so special,” Troy Urdahl said of Jones’ positive outlook. “Not only was he optimistic, he had an uncanny ability to find that person who might need just a little extra help or a little extra support and make a difference in that person’s life. And he did that for a generation of Litchfield baseball players.”
“There probably isn’t an adult who grew up in Litchfield for the last couple generations who wasn’t encouraged to play baseball by Red Jones — and play the game the right way,” Wollin said. “He had a very good influence on kids, coaches and parents.”
Dion Sussner, who grew up in Litchfield and played Babe Ruth baseball under Jones, is now a high school baseball coach who tries to model Jones’ caring approach to coaching.
“Red had a way of always being patient and caring about each kid,” Sussner said. “Whether a player made an error or a player didn’t have a good game, he never added to that frustration that the kid would probably already carry from a bad game or a tough weekend. He was always just the most patient, and I never heard him raise his voice.”
A touching eulogy
I never knew Red Jones, though I wish I had.
If I had, perhaps I would have more to say.
But even if I knew this great man, I don’t believe I could have summoned better words than those of Troy Urdahl, who wrote a stirring remembrance of Jones on the St. Anthony Village website.
“For a whole neighborhood in Litchfield, Jones was seen as a generous father-figure who held you to a high standard — but did so with a heart bigger than Darwin’s twine ball. As a young ballplayer, I learned the game of baseball from Red Jones. As an adult, I now realize he was teaching me about more than baseball; he was teaching me how to navigate life.
“The world will miss you, Red Jones. I just hope you knew how much of a difference you made in the thousands of lives you touched.”