How Cleon Jones is fighting to save a ‘dying community’

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Cleon Jones’ vehicle for helping others is named The Last Out Community Foundation.

“I wonder why it’s called that?” Jones mused, very jokingly.

No, at 78, the man who caught the last out of the Mets’ first championship, in 1969, hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Nor has he lost his passion to aid his longtime home of Africatown, Ala., known for being the docking site of the last slave ship to come to the United States.

“We service the community by painting houses, restoring houses,” Jones, who was born in Plateau, said Thursday in a telephone interview, “and since the storms (Hurricanes Sally and Zeta), we’ve had a lot of roof problems in which the storms blew the roof off.

“When I grew up in this community, we had 12- to 14,000 people. Now we’re looking at 1,800. That says we’re a dying community. I know I can’t replicate the community, but we can still fight to restore it as best we can and preserve the history of the community.”

Jones himself will climb atop a roof to fix it, he said: “Like I tell my wife, I’m old, but I’m not dead. I can walk up the ladder and do what needs to be done. In my younger days, I could walk up the ladder but I could jump off the house getting down. I can’t jump off the house anymore. Now I walk down the ladder. I have to be careful  

“When I go on top of houses, I’m like Humpty Dumpty. If I fall, you’ll never put me together again.”

This endeavor costs money, naturally, said Jones: “It takes money and manpower and materials, all of those things. What I’ve been doing is reaching out to businesses in the area seeking materials and help to do certain things. The people, they reach out to you — maybe not as much as you would like or hope, but they hear you. With the pandemic, it just adds fuel to the fire. You don’t get a chance to shake hands with people and reach out to them where you can make things happen.”

Jones and his fellow civic-minded friends have fixed between 15 and 20 roofs so far, he said, with the help of state funds that have run out; another 12 to 15 houses need help. The average roof repair costs between $8,000 and $10,000, Jones added. 

All of the donations to his foundation will go straight to this cause, Jones said. While he made his biggest catch over 50 years ago, the beloved former outfielder continues to rack up saves.

-— This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Jon Epstein of Windermere, Fla.: Name the two players, one a Yankee and one a Met at the time, whom Pete (Paul Rudd) tries to take in his fantasy draft during the 2007 film “Knocked Up.”

—- ”Deep to Left with Bucky Dent” is a fun podcast hosted by the beloved Yankees shortstop (like Jones and his foundation, you surely can figure out the podcast name’s origin) and Yankees Magazine editor Jon Schwartz, a University of Michigan product. Recent episodes have featured guests like Clint Frazier and Aaron Boone — who of course shares Dent’s middle name of “Bleeping” in Boston.

-— Your Pop Quiz answer is Hideki Matsui and Carlos Delgado. If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected]

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