I first met Gabe Jones in January 2020. I taught and coached at Red Bank Middle from 1995 to 2011. After retirement my wife and I moved to Clearwater, Florida for the climate. , the beach and, yes, the abundance of MLB teams that train in the area.
Tyler Phillips played baseball for me at Red Bank from 2007-2009. He graduated from teaching at UTC and became the head baseball coach at Red Bank High and this would be his first year.
At the request of my sweet daughter, Emily, Tyler and I chatted for a long time and I agreed to be her hitting and infield coach.
So, I came to Chattanooga for a week to train with our players and just to get to know them a little. It was a rainy and foggy day. I went to meet the three seniors, with Tyler. When I got there I noticed all three guys were sitting in the third base cover. It was Gabe, Maddox Wilkey and Eli Massengale. I stuck my head around the corner of the canoe and said, “Hey! I’m supposed to meet the Three Stooges here today. Do you know where I can find them? They all turned and immediately started to laugh. I remember Gabe saying, “Oh! Are you Coach Carter? Wow! You are not what I expected. I thought you would be a fat, bald old man. I said, “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you mate.”
After Tyler arrived, we entered our clubhouse. We had a great discussion about expectations, goals and just to get to know each other a bit. Unfortunately, our season was put on hold after the first two games due to the pandemic. It was a sad and scary time. I always say to guys “Live in the moment and enjoy the day”. If nothing else, they have learned that is very true.
I got to know Gabe well during our spring training and we kept in touch. He was always smiling, eager to learn and said yes sir and no sir. I worked a lot with him on his punches and buntings, which he absolutely adored because he had a certain speed. We worked on his footwork and second glove work. He has a natural side arm movement which is just perfect for making per second throws. The side arm was also ideal for pitching. Hitting the last few years had been a struggle, so he made great strides in that part of his game. He even had a few hits in his first two games. He was a great second baseman with a good arm and a good reach. I really felt that if the season had progressed he could have played somewhere, whether it was college, Division II school, or NAIA school. He just had a genuine love and passion for the game. He played on the UT club baseball team last year as a freshman.
He said he really liked our positive environment and our “Enjoy the Day” attitude. His smile and outgoing personality were contagious to the whole team. He and Jake Brune even did a little dance in the canoe before our first game while the pre-game music played. I filmed it and we all had a good laugh!
Tyler was the assistant head coach earlier in Gabe’s high school career. When I asked Tyler what he thought of Gabe, he said, “Since I knew Gabe, he liked to behave awkwardly and always kept a positive attitude. Gabe was everyone’s friend and had no enemies. He was outgoing and, above all, loved his teammates. Gabe shone positively through everyone he met. He was always ready to do whatever was asked of him and more.
Bailee Phillips, Tyler’s sister and our “adopted” granddaughter, told me that Gabe was the Red Bank Lions mascot for sporting events and that he was really good. I remember discussing it with him and he said, “I really like playing and I hope I can continue playing in college. You can get scholarships to be mascots and if I can’t play baseball in college that’s what I want to do. I asked Gabe when he first started liking mascots. He said, “I always thought mascots are so funny and I really wanted to make it for kids. Their reaction is everything.
It’s Gabe in a nutshell for me. As soon as I met him I knew he was an easy going, fun loving guy. Hey he gave me this “old fat bald” zinger with his first comment. So when the Lions mascot concert became available in its final year, he jumped at the chance. As expected, he did an amazing job.
So when he got to the University of Tennessee, he tried out Smokey, which is the mascot of the University of Tennessee sports teams. For people new to UT, The Flights use both a live version and a costumed version of Smokey. There’s a real Bluetick Coonhound mascot, Smokey X, who runs the Field Flights for football matches.
Gabe did a great job, not only did he become the mascot, but he got the scholarship he dreamed of in high school. It now entertains at all the sporting events of Vols. I asked him what his greatest pleasure in being Smokey had been so far. Without hesitation, Gabe said: “The highlight would definitely be walking into Neyland Stadium on the first night of football, with over 100,000 fans and hearing the crowd getting loud!”
Two years ago Gabe Jones was talking about his college dreams playing baseball and being a mascot. Today Gabe is living these two dreams !!!
Well done Gabe Jones, well done !!!
(Contact Caoch Dee Carter at [email protected])