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From A Players Eyes

Jon Velasquez: A Dream Chaser

From A Players Eyes

The dream all started when I was five years old, being an only child and raised by a single parent mother. I was born and raised in the Bronx, NY and fell in love with the game when my mother used to take me to a park in Pelham Parkway. She would teach me what she knew about the game and I think she did a great job. Little did I know at such a young age the impact the game would have in my life.

I started to become passionate about the game and it was the only sport that I wanted to play. My mom could see how much I loved the game. She signed me up to play little league and would take me to New York Yankees games as often as she could. That’s when I idolized a young big league baseball player by the name of Derek Jeter. As I grew older I wanted to be just like him and wanted to play short stop. My goal was to make it the big leagues and play short stop just like Derek Jeter. Sounds kinda cliché but my mom used to tell me I could do anything I set my mind to, to always work hard because you never know who is watching and to also get my education.

My mother, my biggest supporter.

My mom was right so I attended Northwood University, an NAIA school in West Palm Beach, FL to chase my dream and get my education. My college career started as a walk on and a red shirt during my freshman year but that is when my college coach Rick Smoliak, told me he loved my arm. He loved it so much he told me he thought I would be more beneficial to the team if I pitched. I’ve always pitched and played shortstop in the baseball leagues in the Bronx and at Truman High School but I never really loved it. So that’s when I had the tough decision to make. To pitch or not to pitch? I chose to pitch and that’s when I had to take my new full-time position serious.

I made my college debut in my 2nd year in college and continued pitching for three more years. During my senior year (5th year), I perfected my craft with a lot of hard work and dedication to pitching. At the end my senior season all the hard work paid off because I was voted Pitcher of the Year for the 2nd year in a row, was named All Region/All Conference and helped take our team to the regional’s for the first time in four years. We fell short during regional’s but it was one of the best college baseball experiences.

In May of 2008, I graduated from Northwood University with a Bachelor’s degree in Management and an Associates in Entertainment and Sports Promotion Management. The next step for me was hoping to get drafted. During my senior year in college I was in contact with a Milwaukee Brewers scout who had a lot of interest in me. He told me to watch the MLB draft in June of 2008 because there was a high chance I was going to be drafted.

As I watched the draft back home in the Bronx and didn’t hear my name, I was heart-broken. The scout reached out to me and said sorry and wished me the best of luck. That’s when I became determined to get signed any way I could. My best friend Rich and I looked online at any tryout that might be available near by and found a Major League Scouting Bureau tryout in Philadelphia. Rich and I packed our baseball bags and drove three hours to Philadelphia to do a 9:00 am tryout with about 300 other players seeking to get signed too. All ranging from high school players to your average Joe, who just wanted to do it for the experience.

Pitching with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.

The tryout was long but worth it because it opened doors and I started to receive phone calls on different days to do another tryout with other MLB teams during the summer of 2008. I worked out for the Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Brewers, and Washington Nationals. Unfortunately, after each workout, I was turned down by each team but I was still determined. My mom knew a family friend who worked security for Omar Minaya, who was the GM of the New York Mets at the time. He helped me get a one-on-one workout with one of the area scouts at the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium.

I took my best friend Rich with me as my catcher because you never know he may like him too. The workout went really good as he liked both of us and invited us to another tryout at the end of September of 2008. He informed us that he needed his cross checkers to look at us too before he could make a final decision. So a couple of weeks later we both showed up at the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium nice and early to find out the tryout had to be canceled because of inclement weather. The scout pulled us to the side and apologized. He informed us he was heading out-of-town and wouldn’t be able to reschedule another tryout.

Rich and I were both saddened by the news and had a long silent drive home. For Rich that marked the end of his chase for his dream of making it to the big leagues so he could take care of his family. For me, the thinking began because the determination to get signed was still there. Also, knowing it was getting cold in the north I figured going back to Florida would be my best chance. That is when I packed my bags in October of 2008 and drove 1200 miles to Wesley Chapel, FL to live with my God parents and my cousin Eric who is a brother to me.

Three seasons in Indy ball and one Winter ball season as I worked hard to get back to affiliated ball.

Once I got there I was on the hunt for any tryout but found nothing. There were no tryouts that I knew of that were available except clinics that costs almost $5000, which I couldn’t afford. At that point I was going to quit and go back home to NY. I was very emotional and prayed for God to lead me in the right direction. My cousin, my girl friend at the time, and my God Parents helped keep me positive and told me not to quit.

It wasn’t until February of 2009 that I finally got a break when my really good friend Herbie text me about a tryout for an independent baseball league called the Atlantic League. The tryout was being held in Lakeland, FL at the Detroit Tigers spring training complex. I figured since it was being held at a MLB stadium maybe there might be someone from the Tigers who may watch the tryout. My cousin Eric wanted to come and support me so we drove together to the complex.

The tryout was short because there was only about 50 guys there and only 15 pitchers throwing. When it was my turn to get on the mound and throw, I threw 20 or so pitches and I was done. As I walked off the mound I was approached by two guys, who were scouts and one of them represented the Boston Red Sox and the other was with the Philadelphia Phillies. They both introduced themselves and showed a lot of interest in me. The Phillies scout had me fill out a player information card and invited me to another tryout at the end of February, the Red Sox scout just took down my number.

My cousin and I left the tryout feeling great and he decided to take me out for lunch after a great tryout. I didn’t think much of it, after all I’ve already been in that situation already. As we pulled up to the restaurant I received a phone call from the Red Sox scout saying he really loved what he saw and wanted me to do another tryout for him in the beginning of March. A few days later I received another tryout from the same scout from the Red Sox asking me if I could work out for him the next day. I agreed and drove two hours to Ft. Myers, FL to a local park nearby.

With the great Bernie Williams during my time pitching with Team Puerto Rico durinng the Caribbean Series.

The workout was simple as he just wanted to see me throw again and after I did I drove back to Wesley Chapel. That night I received another phone call from the same scout asking me if I could drive back to Ft. Myers but this time to the spring training complex and I agreed. I told my cousin about it because I felt this was it. I was going to finally get signed. We both drove the next day early in the morning and showed up to the complex. I stretched and warmed up as my cousin looked on. When I got on the mound I gave it my all. I looked around and there was pitching coaches and coordinators watching me throw. I was in shock and I knew this was the biggest tryout I’ve ever done.

After I finished throwing and receiving positive feedback I stepped off the mound and walked over to my cousin as the scout and coordinators spoke. My cousin then said “Do you know who stopped to watch you throw?” I said no. “Theo Epstein was watching you.” I couldn’t believe the GM of the Red Sox was watching me but shortly after he said that the scout that I’ve been talking to called me over. I felt this was it, this is where all the hard work is going to pay off. Then he tells me, “Jon I’m sorry we can’t sign you” and that is when I was devastated.

My cousin and I drove back home as I cried in the car. I told him I was done and couldn’t take it anymore. I was going to go back home to NY and get a regular job. As we approached a red light he said “Jon you have one more tryout left. You are not going to quit, do this last tryout and if you get the same answer, then I’ll understand why you are going to go back home.” I agreed with my cousin to do this last tryout.

The day of the tryout for the Phillies finally arrived and my cousin and I showed up nice and early at 7:00 am for an 8:00 am tryout. I had no idea there was going to be so many players trying out. I was number 68 out of 70 pitchers throwing on this hot February morning in Clearwater, FL. By the time it was my turn to throw it was already 2:00 pm and I was sun burnt because there was no shade. I approached this tryout like I have in my previous tryouts and gave it my all.

At the end of the tryout the scout that invited us all there called out eight numbers so he could speak to them privately. The rest of the guys he wished good luck and thanked them for coming. I was one of the eight. He told three of them to play indy ball so he could keep tabs on them in case there was an opportunity at some point during the season. The last five guys (me included) were told they were signed and invited to minor league spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies. My cousin was sitting in the car waiting for me and as I sat down in the car with him I told him they signed me and we both cried tears of joy as we hugged each other.

Great friends make the journey a bit easier. With Xorge Carrillo and T.J. Rivera in Binghamton.

When I reported to spring training I had no idea that spring training was a tryout. I thought once I signed I was in and going to start off in Low A for the Lakewood Blueclaws. I didn’t let that deter me because I worked hard knowing I was an undrafted free agent. All that hard work paid off during spring and I made the team. Half way through the season, I was promoted to the Clearwater Threshers (High A) and had a successful 2009 season as a starter.

In 2010, I played the whole year in Clearwater and had another successful season. Then 2011 spring training comes along, I was in my best shape ever but that didn’t matter because at the end of spring I was released by the Phillies. I was heart-broken and thought my career was over. With no success in finding a job back in affiliated ball, I signed a contract to play Indy ball in the CanAm League with the Rockland Boulders. After two seasons playing in Rockland with no luck in getting out I knew I had to do something different and ended up playing in 2013 in the Atlantic League for the Camden Riversharks.

Before I started my 2013 season with Camden, I told myself this was it for me. If I can’t make it back into affiliated ball I was going to retire from the game and use my two degrees to land a good job. I worked out harder than I ever worked out during my off-season and put up my best season ever as a professional. Unfortunately, I didn’t get out of the Atlantic League but I was presented an opportunity to play winter ball in Puerto Rico for the Cangrejeros de Santurce. This opportunity was something I have always wanted because of my Puerto Rican heritage.

I was very nervous at first, but once I settled in the success carried over from Camden to PR and before I knew it I received a phone call from the Minnesota Twins. Finally the hard work paid off again and I was finally back in affiliated ball again after three years. A week or so later as I woke up laying in my bed, I picked up my phone and noticed I received a bunch of notifications through social media. Before I could actually see what was going on I received a phone call from my agent. I taken by the New York Mets in the minor league Rule 5 draft.

Spending time with the amazing kids at the 2015 Dave Clark Foundation & Disability Dream Day Baseball Camp with my teammates in Binghamton. (Photo Courtesy of Dave Clark Baseball Facebook Page)

After a successful season in Puerto Rico, I reported to spring training for my new team in Port St. Lucie, FL. I was invited to go to Montreal with the big league club at the end of spring and it was a surreal experience. To get treated like a big leaguer for three days was something I’ve always dreamed of. From the charter flight to Montreal, to staying at the Ritz Carlton in my own room, being in a locker room with guys I’ve been watching on TV for years and having the opportunity to be apart of a big league exhibition game was a dream come true.

Even though I didn’t pitch, the whole experience was amazing. Once I left Montreal, I reported to the Binghamton Mets (AA) and playing in AA for the first time I was selected to be an Eastern League All Star. We had a great team and ended up winning the 2015 Eastern League Championship. At the end of that season, I went back to Puerto Rico and had another successful season pitching, and I was selected to be an All Star and we won the league championship. Our team represented Puerto Rico in winter balls biggest stage, the Caribbean Series. We came up short that year but to be able to put on a Jersey that says Puerto Rico was an honor.

In 2015, I was able to sign back with the New York Mets and was invited to Major League Spring Training. To look back that year and see how far I’ve come was a special moment in my career. To know I’m so close to my ultimate goal was a blessing. I had a successful spring but was sent down to minor league camp where I broke camp with the Binghamton Mets. After about a month, I was promoted to AAA Las Vegas 51s, then back down to AA Binghamton two months later to finish off the remainder of the season.

Big league spring training with the Mets.

The 2015 season was my best year ever in affiliated ball. Unfortunately, it was my last year playing in affiliated ball. I signed with the Nationals after another successful season in Puerto Rico but was released in the spring of 2016. Unsure if I should continue playing or not, I signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League and we won the league championship. Then back to Puerto Rico to play in hopes of getting picked back up. We ended up losing in the championship and ended our hopes of winning three championships in a row.

Currently, I’m still a free agent and I don’t know what the future holds for me as far as baseball goes. I have been very fortunate to be able to play professionally for eight years and truly thankful for every opportunity I had to put on a uniform. My plans for next season are unknown right now. Life’s responsibilities are catching up to me and playing baseball is getting harder and harder. Hopefully something big can happen for me to make next season possible. My goal is to be successful, work hard and strive to get better whether it’s on the field or off. Also, eventually I would love to give back to the game by helping younger kids get better, educate them about the game, and show the many opportunities this game can give them.

My message to those who follow me is to not give up on your dream. Whether in sports or in life. Always have a plan, have goals and stick to them. When times get hard that is when you have to be more focused and determined. My motto has always been “Pressure makes diamonds…I was made to shine.” Also, Work hard, stay positive, shine, and smile. Don’t go through life having regrets on what you could’ve, would’ve, should’ve done for your career. If it’s worth doing take the risk and don’t look back. I would like to thank the Lord, my family, friends, all my coaches, managers, trainers, and scouts who have helped me and kept me positive through this wild ride. Especially my mom for the love, support, and showing me this beautiful game. I love you all.

~ Jon Velasquez

From A Players Eyes is a feature that shares the baseball players Journey’s in their own words of whom are still working towards their dreams of playing Major League Baseball, as well as those that never got the chance and had to leave the game they love behind. Read their stories only at Legends on Deck.

Jon Velasquez was born on October 15, 1985 in Bronx, NY and played baseball at Harry Truman High School and Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fl before turning his attention to professional baseball. His journey has taken him from not knowing if he would be able to follow his dream of playing major league baseball, to being invited to Big League camp with the New York Mets. He has been blessed to be on great teams in professional ball including winter ball in Puerto Rico, while also winning championships. Jon has enjoyed eight successful seasons in pro ball and hard work has brought him much success during his inspiring journey.

Jon Velasquez was born on October 15, 1985 in Bronx, NY and played baseball at Harry Truman High School and Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fl before turning his attention to professional baseball. His journey has taken him from not knowing if he would be able to follow his dream of playing major league baseball, to being invited to Big League camp with the New York Mets. He has been blessed to be on great teams in professional ball including winter ball in Puerto Rico, while also winning championships. Jon has enjoyed eight successful seasons in pro ball and hard work has brought him much success during his inspiring journey.

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