BALTIMORE -- Just how important was it for an Orioles organization off to its best start in seven years -- trying to reverse a trend of 14 consecutive losing seasons -- to extend hot-hitting center fielder Adam Jones?
"Dude rang the cash register every time he hit a home run," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette quipped of Jones, who entered Sunday with a team-leading 14 homers and 31 RBIs to go along with a career-high 17-game hitting streak.
"I mean, Adam kind of forced the issue, didn't he?"
On Sunday afternoon, Jones got paid, agreeing to a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension that will make him the second-richest center fielder in the game (behind the Dodgers' Matt Kemp) with an average annual value of $14.25 million. The deal is the largest contract in team history and more good news for a first-place club that entered Sunday's series finale against the Royals tied for the best record in the American League.
"It's making me, not necessarily a life-long Oriole, but sure leading in that direction," said Jones, who spoke with his mother, Andrea Bradley, agent Nez Balelo, and girlfriend Audie Fugett in the front row and teammates Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Robert Andino and Jake Arrieta watching from the back of the conference room.
"[The team's hot start] helped out a lot, but the big reason that helped me out is you see a lot of different guys in free agency go and switch teams. I think me here, I fit here in this city. I fit here on this team, I fit in at Camden Yards.
"I really don't see myself wearing another white uniform that doesn't have 'Orioles' across the chest. After I put that [it] in perspective of what, if I won here, if we win here, this is my championship. This is our championship. I'm not part of someone else's championship. Putting that in perspective, that makes me even hungrier to win. As a competitor that's all I want is [to] beat the odds ... Here we can really beat the odds, and I do want to be a part of it."
Jones' deal easily surpasses Miguel Tejada's six-year, $72 million contract signed in December 2003 and Markakis' six-year, $66.1 million extension in '09. Jones' deal includes a no-trade provision and escalators can that can bring the total value to $91.5 million. It also ensures that the 26-year-old Jones, who would have been eligible for free agency at the end of next season, remains in Baltimore through 2018.
"[He's] more than a fine player," Duquette said of Jones, who also had a group of youth baseball players he supports on hand for the press conference, "His heart is always in the right place.
"Here's a player that can help us on both sides of the ball. He's 26 years old and he's a fixture in the community. So, we are telling Oriole fans we are committed to this player, we are committed to putting a winning team on the field and we are committed to providing hope to rebuilding our fan base."
Jones, who thanked a laundry list of people responsible for Sunday's events, also singled out manager Buck Showalter and Duquette's commitment to winning, and the freedom the organization has allowed him to be himself and play hard every day.
"Adam understands the responsibility that comes along with the commitment, he doesn't run from that," Showalter said. "And I trust him. Believe me, he interviews us a little too. He doesn't want to be around something that's not going to be worthy of the effort that he's going to put in."
"I definitely want to make my mark on this city, and be known as someone who is going to go out there and play hard every day on the field and go out there in the community and try 100 percent to make a difference," said Jones, a San Diego native who will donate a portion of his yearly salary to Orioles' charities and continue to strive to make a positive impact on local youth.
"Everyone knows I'm not from Baltimore, but this is now my town."
Baltimore is starting to look like a baseball town once again, with the Orioles' play reinvigorating the city and bringing hope to fans that better days are here to stay.
"It's to be continued," Showalter said when asked what locking up players like Markakis and Jones can do for the organization's future. "I think everyone here is driven to put something together that stands the test of time."
Ensuring Jones will be around is a big step forward.
An All-Star and American League Gold Glove Award winner in 2009, Jones was named the "Most Valuable Oriole" by the local media last season after establishing new career highs in games played (151), doubles (26), home runs (25), RBIs (83), stolen bases (12), extra-base hits (53) and slugging percentage (.466).
He entered Sunday batting .309/.351/.597 in 47 games, and ranked in the top 10 in the AL in total bases (second; 114), extra-base hits (tied-second; 25), games played (tied-second; 47), slugging (third; .597), runs (tied-third; 34), hits (fourth; 59), home runs (tied-fourth; 14), stolen bases (tied-fourth; 8), OPS (fifth; .948), RBIs (tied-ninth; 31) and average (10th; .309).
Jones' 17-game hitting streak is the longest in the American League this season.
"Today, every member of the organization can take pride in a job well done," said Duquette who called it an "historic" day for the Orioles. "The fact that Adam will stay in Baltimore and will continue building the winning team, is a testament to what all these [organizational] members have done.
A former first-round Draft pick by the Mariners, Jones was acquired by the Orioles from Seattle along with Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler in exchange for left-handed starter Erik Bedard. The trade was made by former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.
"I just appreciate the opportunity that's what it's all about," Jones said. "I took advantage of the opportunity to play every day here in Baltimore and never looked back."