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.

Page 8 of 8

Jerome has coached the Kennett High School baseball team for the past 7 years. He's given to gentle diatribes that involve the phrase kids today: "Kids today want to get their high off drugs and all that kind of stuff. We could get our high off playing ball."

He's also quick with common-sense quips. "Some of them are afraid to change, because they're afraid they might fail," Jerome says. "I tell them, 'You're already failing, so try something different.'"

He still loves the game, as evidenced by the baseball-shaped rug and stool in his living room and by the way he speaks with still-twinkling eyes about becoming a minor-league coach.

Baseball didn't tease Jerome.

It wasn't supposed to end this way. Jeff Stone had a decent major-league career, with a respectable .277 career average and a transcendent late-inning pressure hit to his credit. But to the excited observers who watched the bootheel blur streak down the line during his rookie season, he could have been so much more.

Still, if he had become an All-Star or even a Hall-of-Famer, Stone would have ended up in Wardell when it was all done, just as he did every off-season.

"It didn't ever leave my blood," he says. "I always knew I was going to come back home when my career was over. When I came back, I would say, 'I'm just a normal man playing baseball. Ain't no better than you.' It was easy for me to come back here and adjust quickly, because I kept that same attitude. I think all players should think like that."

Many baseball fans share his opinion.

Traditionalists love the purity of an undiscovered, raw, rural player signing a modest deal on the kitchen counter of a neighbor's farmhouse. And the Royals faithful long for a star with small-town sensibilities. Someone with Carlos Beltran's talent but without the piranha agent or the mercenary loyalties. Someone who would stroll down the street and talk to strangers.

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