KINGMAN - Call it fate for Jake Negrete when he walked onto the field at the Los Angeles Angels spring training home at Tempe Diablo Stadium on June 4. He was there for a tryout for the independent North American League.
Negrete, 21, was born in Anaheim Calif., lived just 30 miles from Angel Stadium and remembers going to games with his dad, Ernie, in the late 1990s and early 2000s before moving to Kingman in 2005.
The thought of actually pitching for the Angels was the farthest thing from his mind when the right-hander stepped to the mound to give his dream of playing big league baseball another shot.
"I had minimal hope of making an independent team," Negrete said.
After graduating from Kingman High in 2008, Negrete played junior college baseball for Yavapai Community College and Mount San Jacinto Community College in Hemet, Calif. During the 2009 season, Negrete went 9-1 with a 3.41 ERA while having his fastball clocked in the low 90s.
But in 2010 Negrete figured his dream was over. He came back to Kingman and prepared to become a father for the first time.
"I found out that I was having a daughter so I ended up quitting," Negrete said. "I just thought it was time for me to get a real job and stop chasing the dream."
However, Ernie didn't feel his son's dream was over and wasn't going to accept his decision.
"I was criticized by people who don't know what it is like to be a parent and to be blessed with a child that has talent, and watching him let it slip away," Ernie Negrete said. "He came home, we really didn't talk a lot, he would brag a little bit about his softball games and I would look at him and say, 'It's softball.' He would look at me and kind of grin and smile and come back from a tournament and say 'I went 3-for-4.' I would say. 'I can do that. It's softball. You should be playing baseball because you were born to play baseball.'"
Aimed with a new attitude and the motivation to provide for his 5-month-old daughter, Khloe, Negrete decided to give his dream one last chance nearly two weeks ago.
There he discovered his fastball went from being clocked in the low 90s to the mid-90s after a year off, which was enough for an associate scout to call Angels scout John Gracio.
"I was at ASU for the NCAA Regional when he had called me and said, 'Grac, you have come over here and see this guy now.' I said, 'I can't, I'm at the regionals and I can't leave.' He goes. 'No, you have to get over here and see him.' So I said, 'What is he do doing?'
He was warming up at 92. I said 'I want you to shut him down and bring him to our complex tomorrow.'"
So Jacob showed up at 10 a.m., he stretched, warmed up, worked out and got on the hump. And 92, 92 warming up and I said, 'OK, are you ready?' 'Yep.' The next thing he was throwing 93, 93, 95 and with hard slider and a good change."
After the workout, Gracio called Angels scouting director Rick Wilson and minor league coordinator Gabe Florence who told them to tell Negrete to go home and wait and they would sign him as a free agent after the MLB draft was over.
"I grew up being an Angels fan since I was 3 or 4 years old, so it's definitely a fulfilling dream," Negrete said.
According to Gracio, the Angels' plan for Negrete in the short term is for him to continue to work out at Tempe Diablo to get his arm back into baseball shape and get his mechanics down. From there, it's possible before the end of the year he could move to the Angels' rookie level team, the Orem Owlz in Orem, Utah.
"Right now we are concentrating on getting him back to baseball shape," Gracio said. "We want to get his arm back in baseball shape and getting the mechanics down sound. Right now it's sort of a learning year for him again."
For Gracio, what caught his eye with Negrete was the fact his arm works well and the ball comes out of his hand easy. While it's still too early to see where the Angels see him in the organization, Gracio recommends the team start him and have him work his way to the pen.
"It's not up to me. I try to find the talent, and when we sign them, we turn them over to our minor league coaches who develop the talent," he said. "As with everybody we draft and sign. The goal is get them to the big leagues. Now it's up to him, how hard he works, how fast he comes along with his pitch ability. It's just up to him right now. The ball is in his court. He's got the opportunity that a lot of young men wish they had. Now it's up to him."
Chad Moeller knows how much work it takes to make the big leagues. Moeller spent 16 seasons in professional baseball, making his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins in 2000 and being a part of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks World Series championship team.
Moeller was in Kingman on Saturday giving a clinic and had the opportunity to talk to Negrete.
"It will be an exciting time for him," Moeller said. "It's not an easy road, it's a difficult road. If you are willing to make the sacrifices, then it can be good. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, but it can be really exciting. You have to be surrounded by people that believe in you and that are going to support you."
Some of the bumps in the road for Negrete could be the price of fame. His contract isn't much to speak of right now. The Angles are picking up his room and board, and if he gets to the rookie level, he's going to make $1,100 a month. But that hasn't stopped the fame seekers. Since he signed he's already had 64 Facebook friend requests from girls he doesn't even know, according to his farther.
"I got six of them since he signed from people I don't even know," said Ernie Negrete, who is also getting Facebook friend requests from people he doesn't even know. "It's weird."
As Moeller stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are going to support you, Negrete has that in his father who spoke to him just before he left Sunday for Tempe.
"I told him, 'I did my job as your father, as your best friend and as your coach. Now it's your role. Now you need to take care of business. It's your job now. It's yours to lose. If you do what you are suppose to do, you will sign a million dollar contract.'"
While Ernie supports him, Jake's true motivation for making his dream come true is in the form of a 5-month-old bundle of joy who he keeps a picture of in his suitcase and who he kissed goodbye before heading on the road.
"She is one of my main motivations to keep my head straight," Jake said. "She is my rock. She is what keeps me down and keeps my head level."
Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Article comment by:
He's a Negrete...of course he's going to make it! Kick some butt Jake! Ernie...long time bro? This is your cousin Joey. Keep that boys head straight...I want to see Negrete on his shirt on the big screen. Talk to you later.
Posted: Saturday, July 2, 2011
Article comment by:
Thanks Mike!! Its been a long road that for sure. We have great ball players in town but they have to believe in themselves!
Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2011
Article comment by:
Michael Van Vliet
Congrats Jake you had a great coach, Dad, and Father now stay true practice on getting better eveytday and make your dream a reality. As you know my son Josh wants to do the same.