It is a long way from the Broadway and Camino Seco area to Fenway Park, about 2,300 miles actually.
It has actually been a long time since Alex Verdugo has donned the navy blue and red of Sahuaro High School to now wearing the same colors for the Boston Red Sox. More than six years, actually, as the Class of 2014.
After seven stops in the Dodgers’ organization, from the rookie Arizona League and Pioneer League in 2014 to playing 106 games in a full season at Los Angeles last year, Verdugo appears to has found his baseball home in Boston.
MLB.com rates Verdugo’s beginning with Boston in Summer Camp as the team’s top storyline, ahead of the Red Sox’s hiring of Ron Roenicke to replace Alex Cora as manager.
MLB.com reports on Verdugo, who will wear the uncommon No. 99 for the Red Sox because his No. 27 worn with the Dodgers is retired by Boston (Carlton Fisk): “The biggest difference between now, and when Spring Training was suspended? Right fielder Alex Verdugo, the key acquisition piece in the trade for Betts, is a full-go. Verdugo had spent the first several weeks of camp confined mainly to the trainer’s room due to an L5 stress fracture in his back. Over the last several weeks, Verdugo has worked relentlessly to get back to full playing capacity.”
“This guy, he’s probably further along than all of them,” Roenicke is quoted as saying by MLB.com. “This guy has been doing his rehab assignment and hitting in the cage, on the field, probably more than anybody has, so I feel good with where he is. Hopefully there won’t be any setbacks with him in these three weeks, and he’ll be ready to go.”
MLB.com’s assessment of Verdugo heading into camp: “In the three weeks of Summer Camp, the Red Sox are looking forward to getting a full glimpse of what Verdugo’s dynamic skillset looks like on a daily basis. He has a cannon arm in right field and a line-drive stroke at the plate. “
In parts of three seasons with Los Angeles from 2017-19, Verdugo played in 158 games with 443 at-bats. He batted .282 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs. He also produced an impressive 28 doubles and scored 55 times.
I caught up with Verdugo in Las Vegas in 2017 before his promotion to the Dodgers when his team, Triple-A Oklahoma City, visited Sin City.
“I want to keep battling out there, keep hustling and being a good teammate, controlling what I can control,” Verdugo told me. “If that happens (a promotion to Los Angeles), it happens, and hopefully September comes and I’ll get the call up. That’s what everybody roots for. We’re all one step away from it.”
Verdugo told me his biggest improvement from his days at Sahuaro to four years into pro baseball at the time was his maturity.
“I just have to do all the little things, whether it’s defense, running, hitting, hit-and-runs, whatever it is, you just have to play fundamental baseball and play hard and play it the right way,” Verdugo said. “A lot of it also is being a good teammate. That’s the biggest thing.
“If you go up there, how are you going to jell with the guys? How’s the chemistry going to be? That’s the biggest thing they preach, being a good clubhouse guy. It’s huge.”
I also had the good fortune of interviewing Alex’s parents Joe and Shelly of Tucson for a story three years ago. The story details how much his parents meant to his development.
“Since Alex was 5, every coach he’s ever had, said that he is a natural,” Shelly said. “That’s all they kept saying. He’s a natural. His older brothers played baseball first. He would be with us because he was still little.
“He would stand there with the tee and hit the ball into the chain link fence because I didn’t let him go any where unless he was right there by me. But he would just hit for hours. It probably drove everybody crazy, but he would just hit the ball right off the tee into the chain link fence … forever, literally for hours and hours, every game. That’s probably why he has such a good swing.”
Joe Sr. said Alex’s love for baseball and his desire to develop his skills went to extremes about the time he started attending Sahuaro.
“The neighbors would come to our house with paper bags full of his baseballs because he would take hours and hours swinging off the tee in our backyard,” Joe said laughing. “He would hit the balls into the swimming pool and the backyards of our neighbors.
“Alex would hit the balls and the neighbors would say he almost knocked one person out. It was the funniest thing ever. He was pretty dangerous that guy. You know, the neighbors read the newspaper stories about Alex. They were so proud of him that … I don’t know, they might have kept some of those balls.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.