"Be all you can be." It's the Army's motto, but Sharon Richard Jones capitalized on it.

Jones grew up in Berkeley, Calif., the 10th child in her family. Jones, who is African-American, attended a predominately white school district.Early on, she was labeled "educationally handicapped."

The label didn't stick.

In high school, she had a "life-changing" experience. Jones read "Sojourner Truth: A Self-made Woman." If Truth could accomplish all that she had without being able to read or write, Jones reasoned, surely Jones could accomplish what she set her mind to.

And she did. In 1980, Jones became the first black woman executive in major league baseball. More than 10 years later, she is still the highest-ranking woman in the sport, currently serving as director of outreach activities for the Oakland A's.

Jones, who spoke Wednesday at Utah Valley Community College, is also the executive vice chairwoman of the Baseball Network, an organization of retired players and team employees that work to address the needs of blacks in the sport. Jones is also a member of the American Women's Baseball Association, the Society for American Baseball Research and founder of the Women's Sports Information Seminar, which educates people - women in business, senior citizens, immigrants, etc. - about baseball.

Jones' future role in the sport was perhaps foreshadowed when baseball great Jackie Robinson visited her neighborhood when she was 13. Robinson had dinner at a neighbor's house, where Jones joined him for a bowl of ice cream.

Jones illustrated skills needed to be successful in life with a story about getting stuck in traffic on her way to catch a plane to Utah. The traffic jam required her to create a "game plan" for getting to the airport on time, to focus her attention on that goal and then communicate with other drivers about her problem in order to achieve her goal.

"I grew up at a time when my personal traffic signals were stuck," Jones said.

By setting goals and achieving them, Jones increased her self-esteem.

"Action cures fear," she said.

Jones attended college courses at night while working as a secretary after graduating from high school. She then went to Mills College - where her aunt once worked as a dishwasher before being fired and replaced by a man "more capable" of lifting heavy pots and pans.

Last year, Jones was the commencement speaker at Mills College.

"The secret is to stay with the goal, to try new things . . . studying your setbacks," she said.

Which is exactly how she got her job in major league baseball. She studied the business section of her local paper and read about the sale of the Oakland A's. Jones had no experience with baseball - she'd attended only one baseball game in her life.

View Comments

Although the A's had no job openings, Jones began a letter-writing campaign to the Walter A. Haas family, owners of the Levi Straus company, after determining they would most likely be the new owners of the team. Jones succeeded in getting an interview and then read up on the history of the team and the family.

"When I got the interview I was ready," Jones said. She encouraged UVCC students to read the local papers, study business trends, be prepared to create their own jobs and then pitch them to potential employers.

Jones suggested that students clearly develop goals, focus on them and learn from mistakes. When thinking about a career, it helps to consider what you feel passionate about, Jones said.

"Don't become immobilized when traffic signals are not functioning," she said. "I would hate to think where I'd be today if I'd left the school system thinking I was educationally handicapped."

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.