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Stu Jones: Family comes first, then baseball

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Stu Jones and his family first moved to Laguna in 2011, Jones says he had little choice but to embrace being “the other Stu.” Back then there was only one really well known “Stu” in Laguna Beach – Stu Saffer, the legendary founder of Stu News. So, Jones didn’t take it personally. 

Sharing a name and a passion

The confusion stemmed from both men sharing the same name in a small town. However, it’s somewhat fitting to find out that in addition to sharing a name, the two men share something else equally personal: a love of baseball, even more specifically, Angels baseball. And while Saffer, sadly, died in 2017, Jones is doing his best to keep Laguna’s baseball traditions alive and vibrant.

Happy to be proven wrong

Stu Jones played a lot of different sports when he was young, but going to baseball games was a special thing he did with his dad. “I was the only son. My dad had season tickets to the Angels. That was our thing. I have always had a love for it. Then I had four daughters and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a lot of baseball.’”

Stu Jones close up

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Stu Jones, “the other Stu,” is a dedicated LBLL coach, Board member, and State Farm agent

And, while it’s true that Jones’ girls are busy with art classes, dance recitals, gymnastics, and water polo, his assumption that having daughters would mean no baseball has been happily proven incorrect. 

When his oldest child Presley was three Jones says he got out a wiffle ball and showed her how to hit it. She took to it. She took to it so much she eventually started watching games by herself and relaying the Angels’ stats to her family over breakfast. 

The Black Ninjas started it all

More than just watching and studying the game, Presley wanted to play. So Jones volunteered to coach her T-ball team, the Black Ninjas, and says proudly, “I’ve coached her every year since.” Presley is now in Laguna Beach Little League’s Intermediate Division for 12 and 13-year-olds.

“Riddle Field is a special place,” says Jones reverently. For those lucky enough to have experienced either playing or watching games (or just eating burgers) at Laguna’s intimate baseball diamond nestled behind Boat Canyon, there is no disputing that sentiment. Riddle Field is, indeed, a special place (so special, in fact, that it is where Stu Saffer’s memorial service was held; it could not have been more fitting.) 

The last girl standing

Presley, at this point in her baseball career, is the last girl standing. She wasn’t the only girl on her T-ball team but she is now the only one left from that team still playing baseball. Jones says he and his wife Jenny ask Presley the same question every year: “Do you want to play?” And every year she has answered with an enthusiastic “yes!”

Stu Jones and family

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Stu Jones with his family: from left, Presley, 12, Sailor, 9, Everly, 4, Jamison, 6, and wife Jenny

And that’s a good thing, in a lot of ways, according to Jones. He believes that having Presley on the team is a positive all the way around. “It’s been a good thing for everybody to have a girl play,” he says. “She’s not a ‘girl’ in the dugout. She’s Presley, sharing sunflower seeds, talking about what pitch they’re going to throw.” 

“Stu Saffer Love of the Game Award”

Fittingly, last year Presley was awarded the “Stu Saffer Love of the Game Award.” It is voted on by the coaches and board members of LBLL. “That was something I had nothing to do with,” says Jones proudly. “It was such a great honor as a dad and a coach. It makes you proud to see her recognized for all she’s putting into it.” As for how long her career will continue, Jones is clear on one thing, “She’ll know when it’s time.” Until then, father and daughter, coach and player, are making memories. 

Choosing a career that let him choose family first

For Jones, a State Farm insurance agent, being there for his kids is what it’s all about. It’s so much about that, in fact, it’s the reason he chose the career he did. “Growing up, my best friend’s dad was our State Farm agent. He was at every practice, every game. I thought that he was retired,” laughs Jones. “They had a nice home, nice cars so I asked him, ‘What do you do for a living?’” When Jones found out, he decided that that was the path he wanted to follow. “It has been an amazing career for me to be able to do what’s important.” 

Happy to help out where others can’t

Besides coaching LBLL, something he says becomes a second job during the season, Jones has served on the LBLL Board for four years. He sings the praises of his fellow board members, acknowledging their commitment and dedication. “It’s a small community. We’re challenged with people who have the time to commit. I have a career that allows me that flexibility,” he explains. The group is committed to the kids; every meeting centers around how to make LBLL better. Jones feels like they’re having success. “Riddle is like a mini-Fenway Park,” he says. “The kids who play here all year long have a great time.”

Teaching kids how to do things the right way

Jones seems to be having a pretty good time, too, especially when he recounts his team’s big win the night before we met. “They scratched and clawed and fought,” he says of the battle. “At the end, to see them all with their arms around each other, they were a real team. To stand back and watch as coaches, to give them that moment, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Of course, winning is great. However, with Jones one gets the sense that winning is secondary to how one plays the game. Jones takes this part of his coaching duties seriously. “It’s literally like my business,” he says. “Coaching and being a State Farm agent, I get to share my knowledge and help people I care about. Some of the most influential people in my life have been my coaches. It’s a great honor for me to pass that down to these kids.”

Stu Jones coaching

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Stu Jones gets his team ready before a game at Riddle Field

A personal loss highlights the importance of his profession

Jones talks a lot about doing things the right way. It’s undoubtedly related in some ways to his business which is all about helping people prepare for the future. This lesson was made extremely personal when his best friend died at 32 years old, leaving behind a wife and three children under five. “We were building our businesses together. He’d go right and I’d go left and we’d knock on doors and then meet up for a beer after,” remembers Jones of their early years. Fortunately, his friend was prepared for the worst, even at such a young age. “The greatest thing he did was take care of his family,” says Jones. 

When your daughter thinks you’re a superhero

That legacy is one Jones takes very seriously. For him, it is all about family. When Presley wrote an essay for a KX 93.5 Father of the Year contest, her letter secured Jones’ victory. Even if it hadn’t, for him, reading his daughter’s perception of him was more special than any win. “She believes I can do anything,” he says, visibly moved. “That means the world to me.”

Presley may think her dad has super powers, but Jones is convinced his wife Jenny does. “My wife is an absolute godsend,” he says. “She’s my magnetic north. She does it all humbly, quietly, wants to keep it in the background, but she makes it go, every bit of it.” He says this with the conviction of a man who knows his good fortune.

An ask for Brayden Belden who still needs help

He knows how lucky he is for a lot of reasons. Seeing others, dear friends, who have been dealt much different hands can only highlight that fact. That was clearly on his mind when he and I met. There was one thing he really wanted to make sure I included in this story, and it is something that has nothing to do with him directly. He really wants people to know that Brayden Belden, the young Laguna boy who suffered a horrific head and neck injury while snowboarding last year, is still fighting for his recovery, and the family is still in need of help. “He is defying the odds,” says Jones. “They’re doing anything they can, but that takes money.” There is a GoFundMe page still open to help. (www.gofundme.com/brayden-belden

Stu Jones Stu and Presley

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Stu Jones and his oldest daughter Presley, winner of the Stu Saffer Love of the Game Award, whom he has coached every year since T-ball

There is no way to seamlessly work that into this story, but it does speak to the kind of person Jones is. He coached Brayden in baseball and Presley and Brayden are friends. Strangely, on the day of Brayden’s accident, Presley also had a skiing mishap. She broke her arm. Of course, to Presley and her family breaking her arm seemed like a really big deal until they were soberly reminded of what real tragedy looks like. The contrast clearly weighs on Jones, hence the request that we all keep Brayden’s fight in our thoughts.

Embracing what’s important

Jones’ profession is to help people plan for the worst. He is faced with the precarious nature of life on a daily basis. This seems to have inspired him to make the most of what some people call the simple things in life, but what Jones would certainly call the most important. Having four daughters, Presley, 12, Sailor, 9, Jamison, 6, and Everly, 4, means the Jones household is an extremely busy one. Clearly, that’s how they like it. And while a family of girls (even the dog is a girl) hasn’t meant all baseball, all the time, for Jones it has meant just enough baseball for as long as it lasts.  After that, he will enthusiastically embrace whatever comes next.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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