Sparks High assistant baseball coach Erin Jones had dreams of becoming the first female Major League Baseball player as a child. While that dream ended in high school, baseball still holds a special place in her heart.
"The story that my Mom told me a long time ago was my last year of baseball, my high school coach at the time in the Bay Area approached my Mom and asked if I was going to play baseball," Jones said. "She's, like, 'Well, yeah. She's been playing since she was little.' And he pretty much said he would put me on the team so they wouldn't get sued, but that it didn't matter how good I was, I would not play an inning on his field. So that's when my mom kind of just made the decision. I didn't even know I was playing softball until we showed up to tryouts."
Jones wasn't happy with the decision, but she made the best of it, eventually becoming a college softball player.
"It was rough," Jones said. "I don't think I talked to my mom for three months. It was like in a movie. Instead of making a left to go to the baseball field tryouts, we made a right, and that's where the softball fields were. I was like, 'Where are we going?' And she's like, 'Oh, you're playing softball.' She actually didn't even tell me what happened with the baseball coach until years later."
Jones played softball for a year at Sacramento State, coincidentally a teammate with future San Francisco Giants assistant coach Alyssa Nakken, before she transferred to Nevada where she starred with the Wolf Pack from 2011-14. During her senior season, she led Nevada in hitting (.377), on-base percentage (.493) and ranked second on the team in hits (43) and walks (26). Jones credits former Nevada softball head coach Josh Taylor as the most influential coach in her career.
"It was honestly the best decision," Jones said about transferring to Nevada. "It all ended up working out. It was an amazing experience. I wouldn't wish to be anywhere other than where I'm at right now. (Taylor) was by far, of the 17 years that I played the sport, baseball and softball, the best coach I ever had. I definitely try to emulate a lot of how he coached me into what I bring in to these boys, 100 percent."
Jones has worked at Sparks High for two years with the non-profit Communities In Schools, a nationwide dropout prevention program. An email sent out to the Sparks High staff sparked her interest in coaching baseball.
"About a month after I came over, I checked my inbox and we had an email from the athletic director that went out to the all-staff that said, 'Hey, we're in need of an assistant baseball coach,'" Jones said. "I read it a couple of times and I was just, like, 'You know what? I can do that. I've played before. I played until high school.' I was, like, 'Let's try it and see how it goes.'"
Jones is one of two female assistant coaches at the varsity baseball level in the Northern 5A and 3A divisions, joining Galena High's Carol Laube, who is in her sixth season with the Grizzlies.
"I don't even think of Erin as a female," Sparks High baseball coach Gregg Shugar said. "It doesn't even register to me. She's just a baseball person. She just knows so much about hitting, fielding. A long time ago, Rob Hastings told me, 'Surround yourself with the best people as coaches,' and Erin is one here."
Jones said Sparks' players have never treated her differently because she is a female coaching a male sport. While they were skeptical last season, they've always respected her for who she is as a coach.
"I think last season they were a little wary," Jones said. "It was very much like, 'Who is this chick out here? What's her role? How much does she know?' But they've always been super respectful. These kids make coaching really easy. They're respectful, they're coachable, they're willing to learn, they come out, they show up every day. I know a lot of coaches say this and it's cliché, but it is so true: You're teaching these kids things that you hope they'll take with them for the rest of their lives, whether they play at the next level or not."
You can watch the feature on Erin Jones below.