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02/27/10 5:25 PM EST

Jones soaks up second chance with Twins

Outfielder looks to impress, earn backup spot on old club

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The idea first came to Jacque Jones when he returned to the Twin Cities this past October to take part in the end of the Metrodome celebration.

Jones, 34, had just spent the summer playing independent ball with the Newark Bears, and his hope was to find a way to get back to the Majors. As the outfielder walked around downtown Minneapolis and was greeted warmly by Twins fans during what was to be the final regular-season series at the Metrodome, he believed there would be no greater place for him to find a second chance in his career than where it all began.

"I wanted to make a comeback," Jones said. "And I wanted to come back here."

So Jones, who played for Minnesota from 1999-2005, traveled to Indianapolis for the Winter Meetings in December. He sat down with Twins general manager Bill Smith and other members of the front office to express how he felt he could still play. Two months later, the phone call came that the Twins were offering him a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league camp.

And as Jones sat in front of his locker inside the Hammond Stadium clubhouse this week, he said it's like he's returned home.

He's wearing his old No. 11 jersey. His locker is back in the same corner of the clubhouse that he used to occupy with the likes of Torii Hunter and Matt Lawton, the original "soul patrol." And he's having fun catching up with old friends, including former Minnesota greats Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Paul Molitor, who are all instructors in Twins camp.

"It's really like I never left," said Jones. "Everything is the same. Things are run the same. It's the same people here. It feels awesome.

"I'm not super religious, but I know that it's God working. I've come back home. I got my number back. It's just weird. Now it's just left up to me and my God-given ability."

The chances of Jones making Minnesota's Opening Day roster are slim, and he understands that. The Twins have all three outfield positions settled, with Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer as the regulars, and designated hitter Jason Kubel providing the club with a fourth outfielder for the corner spots.

Jones, a .277 career hitter with a .326 OBP, has agreed to play at Triple-A Rochester if he doesn't make the big league team. He's hoping, though, to show the club his versatility this spring by backing up all three outfield positions as well as taking grounders at first base. For him, it's all about getting another opportunity.

"I don't want to go five, 10, 15 years down the line from now and be like, 'Man, you should have at least tried,'" Jones said. "I told the guys the other day, 'The worst thing they can do is send me home.' Even though I know it's a tough situation here, I think that if I do what I'm capable of doing that things will work out."

Jones was a key cog in the Twins' rise to perennial American League Central contenders in the early 2000s. His best all-around season for Minnesota was '02, when he batted .300 with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs in the first of three straight division-title runs for the Twins.

Things haven't exactly turned out the way that Jones had envisioned since he left the Twins as a free agent after the 2005 season. He signed a three-year deal with the Cubs and got off to a strong start in his first season in Chicago, batting .285 with 27 home runs and 81 RBIs. The next season, his average remained the same, but he hit just five homers and 66 RBIs. At the end of 2007, the Cubs traded Jones to the Tigers.

Just a month into his stint with Detroit, Jones was designated for assignment for the first time in his career. He was then picked up by the Marlins, but he lasted there about three weeks. In a combined 42 games with Florida and the Tigers in 2008, he batted .142 with a .239 on-base percentage.

"I don't know what happened, other than I've always been a slow starter," Jones said. "If I had hit .210 the year before and .220 the year before that, I would have been able to accept it and say 'OK, I can't play. I can't do it.' But it was weird -- nine straight years in the big leagues of putting up some decent numbers, and one bad month and now I can't play anymore."

Jones decided to try to get himself right mentally and went home for the rest of the season rather than try to hook up with another team. He wasn't ready to be done playing, but waited until the winter to go to Mexico to work on his swing. Jones spent a month playing winter ball with Obregon and batted .314 (37-for-118) in 29 games.

The stint in Mexico helped Jones to sign a Minor League deal with the Reds for the 2009 season, which included an invitation to big league camp. But with a chance to grab a spot in the outfield, Jones batted just .089 in 45 spring at-bats. He was released toward the end of Spring Training, leaving him once again without a job.

Still, Jones wasn't ready to throw in the towel on his career. In an effort to prove to himself that he could still play, Jones signed with the Bears in the independent Atlantic League last June. He batted .311 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 119 at-bats.

"It was kind of like, 'If I can't do it here, there is no sense in thinking about getting back to the big leagues,'" Jones said. "But I did it so I'm like, 'Man, I can still play.' It's just a matter of getting an opportunity and taking advantage of it."

Jones is getting another chance to try to revive his career, this time in the place where it all began, and there are plenty of people within the Twins organization rooting for him.

"He's another one of these guys that's like my son," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Jones. "These guys I kind of grew up with in '02, my first manager year -- Jacque, Torii and all those guys. We were all close, really close. It's nice to have him back. ... I like coming in here and seeing his face. I hope he comes in here and plays well. It would be fun for us all."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.