Miracle Mets star continues giving back to hometown

December 23rd, 2022

NEW YORK -- The way Cleon Jones sees it, “it’s payback time” when it comes to helping people in his hometown of Africatown, Ala., a few miles from Mobile. 

It’s the same town he credits for helping him become a successful Major Leaguer with the Mets in the 1960s and '70s. It was neighbors in Africatown who gave him the equipment to play baseball as a kid. In fact, Jones’ first glove was given to him by a neighbor when he was 12 years old. Even at that age, Jones felt he was good enough to play professional baseball. 

Now 80, Jones is making sure people in his hometown live in decent homes. The Cleon Jones Last Out Community Foundation, a non-profit organization, has raised funds to refurbish and build affordable homes in the community, which has a population of 2,000. The contributions have come from many. Mets ownership, led by chairman and CEO Steve Cohen, has contributed to Jones’ cause. 

“The Mets have been great,” Jones said via telephone. “They embraced what we are doing. They have been so helpful about all that we are trying to do. ... Everything I’ve asked them to do, they have been gracious enough [to help].”

Heart 9/11, a non-profit organization in New York, will go to Africatown during the beginning of next year to help restore and rebuild homes. By the sound of his voice, Jones can’t wait for Heart 9/11 to get to work.       

“[The people in Africatown] are the reason I did certain things [in life],” Jones said. “When you get to be 80 years of age, you don’t think about how old you are; you reflect back on your youth. That is something that has rejuvenated me and gave me a reason to go to bed and get up in the morning. 

“I spent 40 years of my life to give back. I look at it as payback. So much was afforded to me and so many people gravitate around me because they thought I had talent and they thought I was worth saving. It’s up to me to try and save others and gravitate to people who need my kind of help, whether it's building houses, refurbishing houses or just looking out for people in general.”

Jones’ love for Africatown dates back to when he was 8 years old in 1950. He broke his leg jumping off a building. While recovering, best friend Evander Penn often would go to Jones’ house after school to pay a visit and bring cookies.

“That, to me, for a kid that is 8 years old to bring some cookies for another kid, that just stuck with me,” Jones remembered. “I realized how meaningful it was to have neighbors and friends that look out for one another.”    

Jones would go on to have a 13-year Major League career, mostly with the Mets. His best season occurred in 1969, when he hit a career-high .340 and helped the Mets win their first World Series title. The day after New York upset the Orioles in five games, Jones and his wife, Angela, drove back to Africatown to share the fruits of victory, bypassing the parade in New York and an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" a few days after that.

“I’m just thinking about all the people I grew up with and all the people that helped me. I wanted to celebrate with them,” Jones recalled. “The parade is important and I get all of that. ... We drove to Mobile to celebrate with my community and fellowship, so they can enjoy what we were enjoying because it was a product of the community, not just a product of my family. It was a product of this community -- all the people that were there for me.”

When it comes to helping people in his hometown, Jones doesn’t want a pat on the back. He doesn’t want anyone to say, “I owe you.” All he is looking for is a smile from the people he is helping. There is another thing that he wants. 

“All we ask people is to pass it on. Help somebody else,” Jones said.