For a one-time major-league prodigy Jeff Stone, a return to the bootheel was only natural.

Field of Broken Dreams 

For a one-time major-league prodigy Jeff Stone, a return to the bootheel was only natural.

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And his upper body is scattered with scars, the aftermath of a 2002 argument in which his wife, Linda, stabbed him several times, puncturing his lung.

The two had married just a year earlier. Getting married at age 41 was "weird," Stone says. "I was so set in my ways."

Stone didn't press charges; he and Linda remain together. "It was a situation that got out of hand, and we both lost our tempers," he says, declining to elaborate on the cause of the argument. "Maybe she went too far. If you love someone, you forgive them."

Stone always seems willing to offer the benefit of the doubt, to assume that even the most outlandish attack might have been justified. He is a trusting, generous man, qualities that don't necessarily serve athletes well in professional sports. Grizzled baseball writers invariably described Stone as "sweet." Even in a harsh piece that criticized Stone's strikebreaker status in 1995, The Philadelphia Daily News described him as "one of the most unaffected people on the planet."

"Jeff is really a special memory," Giles tells the Pitch. "I've probably met 3,000 ballplayers in my life, and there hasn't been any like him. You think about 'loving' and 'sweet' all the time, and it's strange to do that with a man, but that's the way everybody feels about him."

"People thought he was dumb, but he wasn't," Paul Owens told Sports Illustrated in 1992. "He was naïve, but beautifully naïve."

Beautiful naïveté might be an appealing personality trait, but it's a decided disadvantage in a business with scant sentiment. In professional baseball, sometimes there is no buffer zone between achievement and disappointment.

Jerome Stone stands on the pitcher's mound at North Pemiscot High School. He's still in athletic shape, occasional asthmatic wheeze aside, and he delights in bringing his young hurlers back to earth by blasting their best shots during batting practice. It's refreshing to remind locals that he, too, was once a highly regarded prospect.

"People tell me, 'I played against your brother in high school,'" Jerome says. "I say, 'Dummy, you played against me, too, because we're twins.' They remember Jeff, not me. I would get asked 10 to 15 times a day, 'How's your brother?' After a while, you get tired."

Jerome played for 4 years at Arkansas State. Signed as an undrafted free agent, he played in the Phillies minor-league system, then played professionally in Mexico. Unable to communicate with his Spanish-speaking teammates, Jerome would remain completely silent during bus trips that sometimes lasted more than two days. He learned quickly not to drink the local water or take chances on indecipherable menus, lest he again sample cow tongue or an entire fish with head and eyes intact.

"He would call home crying," family friend Bobbette McCulloch recalls. "He would say, 'I can't eat anything, I can't drink anything, I can't talk.'"

He did have plenty of colorful stories about life in the Mexican league upon his return. Team owners who couldn't afford lawn mowers would graze cows in the outfield during the afternoon. "If you dove, you'd get a mouthful of cow doo," he recalls. As for the infield, the grass was so tall that routine ground balls to first base would become inside-the-park home runs because fielders couldn't find the ball. On the bright side, when Jerome hit a home run, home fans would rush to the side of the dugout to hand him pesos.

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