St. Louis Cardinals

Ten years later, Miami’s Jon Jay still thriving in MLB — and hasn’t forgotten his roots

Jon Jay on the Royals’ tradition

New KC Royals outfielder Jon Jay talked about joining his new team.
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New KC Royals outfielder Jon Jay talked about joining his new team.

Jon Jay sat at his locker in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse on Wednesday, his orange bandanna with the University of Miami “U” wrapped around his forehead starkly contrasting his White Sox’s monochromatic color scheme.

Ten years into his Major League Baseball career, and Jay has not forgotten his roots.

Nor will he.

“I love The U,” said Jay, who’s nickname on his MLB player bio is “305 J.” “I’m always wearing something Miami related.”

He’s also still playing some pretty good baseball in his 10th season, even though he had to wait close to three months to make his season debut. A hip injury from spring training sidelined Jay for 75 games. He waited. And waited. And waited some more.

And now, Jay finally has had the chance to produce for the White Sox, his fifth team in the past four years after spending his first six seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s hitting .317 with six doubles, six RBI and 10 runs scored since making his season debut on June 24. He has reached base safely in all but one of 22 games and has six multihit games, including a 4-for-4 night against the Kansas City Royals on July 15.

“It’s nice to be out there and playing baseball,” Jay said. “I really love and enjoy playing baseball. It’s nice to get out there and put a uniform on.”

It’s the type of performance he has become accustomed to during his MLB career. Jay, 34, a second-round pick out of UM in 2006 and won a state title with Miami Columbus High in 2003, has a career .286 batting average with 36 home runs, 333 RBI and 523 runs. He hit better than .290 in six of his first nine MLB seasons.

In his first season as an everyday starter in center field, Jay led the Cardinals in games played (159) while batting .297 with a career-high 10 home runs during St. Louis’ 2011 World Series run.

He recorded his 1,000th career hit on July 30, 2018, with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Jay said. “I can kind of sit back and look back at it. It’s been 10 years now since I made my debut. I’ve been able to experience a lot of playoffs and a lot of really good teammates. I’ve learned from a lot of quality people.”

He credits growing up in Miami to his big-league success.

“You learn to compete from a young age,” Jay said. “There’s just the pride. There’s competition there right now. As a young kid, you’re out there competing and playing against a lot of good competition.”

That success continued during his three seasons at UM, a tenure that still has him among the Hurricanes’ record books. His 254 career hits and .378 batting average are the fifth best in program history. His .408 hitting mark in 2005 is the seventh-best single-season batting average by a Hurricanes player.

It all culminated with him being inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, an accolade he still calls “one of the biggest honors and life moments for me.”

“My dream my whole life was to be a Cane,” Jay said. “When I got inducted, that was something that really hit. It’s something I’m really proud of.”

And he’s still keeping up with the Canes, who made it back to the NCAA tournament last season under new head coach Gino DiMare, who recruited Jay to UM as an assistant coach all those years ago.

“I was really close with him. He’s been very influential in my career,” Jay said. He really helped me a lot when I was in college, and we stayed in touch. I’m really happy for where the program’s heading. They’ve got a lot of guys coming back next year. A good group of juniors. I’m excited to see what they do.”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.