James “JJ” Jones, 68, Kansas City, Kansas
Listening to JJ Jones tell his story, it’s hard not to start humming “You Gotta Have Heart” from the popular musical Damn Yankees. That’s because he continues to swing a bat after not one but two heart transplants.
The Kansas native spent much of his childhood in California, where he fell in love with baseball and played from little league through high school. As often happens, entering the working world interrupted his sporting life as JJ moved home to Kansas and began a career as a hardwood lumber grader. But his heart brought him back to the diamond.
“When I was 27 I joined a fast pitch softball team, and later moved to slow pitch play until I had my first heart attack at 39,” he recalls. “My father died at 41 from a heart condition, and my mother, brother and sister have had heart issues. So the doctors advised me against playing ball. That was in 1985 and I didn’t get back to it until I was 60 and got my first heart transplant in 2006.”
JJ “kinda hung around” for a year until he literally saw a sign. “I was going to visit my son in Raytown, Missouri and I saw what looked like one of those little political signs that said ‘Senior Softball’ with a phone number. The doctor said it was fine to do whatever I could do, so I called up and they got me going right away. I’ve been on one team or another ever since.” He has competed with his Ageless Wonders senior softball team for Senior Games in Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa. He finally made it to the National Senior Games in 2013, but not before he had to clear another hurdle.
“I’ve only missed a couple of games of senior ball, but the one I remember missing most was on October 12, 2010 when I got the call from St. Luke’s Transplant Clinic to come in for my second transplant. The first one had been failing, so I consider myself blessed that the second one became available,” he says. “In April of 2011 I was back out playing ball again.”
JJ makes the most of his opportunity, playing shortstop and second base with occasional nods to take the pitching mound. “It’s the biggest part of my life right now. I play every chance I get and my wife comes with me and enjoys it. The camaraderie with the new friends I’ve made is great. These guys are all like me- they love the sport and refuse to give it up.”
“My doctors insist that I continue playing. It helps me both physically and mentally,” he adds. “And I’ve been able to occasionally do some mentoring with other transplant patients. It helps for them to see somebody who has gotten through and is active again.”