A Left-Side Life
"You're going to fail. You're going to fail. You're going to fail. And, when you learn how to deal with failure, you'll succeed." - Andy Meyer
Jonathan Meyer was five years old when struck by the realization that some grown-ups actually play baseball for a living.
"I'd already started playing baseball and we went to a Dodgers game. My parents were there, and so was my cousin. A foul ball went up and over behind us. It hit one of the beams, ricocheted and landed right in my glove. My cousin lifted me in the air and everyone around celebrated with us.
"I remember asking my mom how Mike Piazza made his money. She said, 'he's a baseball player.' I decided that's what I wanted to do, too."
And that's what happened, though it didn't just happen. According to Jonathan, father Andy is a 24/7 baseball sponge who beckons his son to come watch MLB Network programming during the fall and winter. Jonathan grew up with the Orloff brothers - Ben and Matt - and attended Simi Valley (Calif.) High School, proving ground of major league players Jeff and Jered Weaver, Scott Radinsky, Tim Laker and Bryan Anderson. In all, 20 Pioneers have gone on to professional careers.
But it's still a kid's game; today Jonathan just plays it at a higher level. He knows how to get back to his Pioneer roots from seeds planted at Santa Susana Boys Baseball.
"I came up with Matt, who just finished at Fullerton," Jonathan noted. "We played together from the time we were five until the age of 17. Matt, Ben and I would always go to the field and take grounders. In fact, most recently we did that just last off-season."
Jonathan was a defense-first kid. The reason? It was fun.
"After our games, Matt and I would go to the snack bar where my grandmother (Peggy) worked and then we'd go back to the field. We'd work on diving plays, challenging each other and, at times, making each other create more difficult plays. My favorite thing on SportsCenter when I was little was Web Gems. I can remember John McDonald of the Blue Jays and Ozzie Smith and Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers, who was my favorite defensive third baseman."
And, if Jonathan needed some extra work (fun), Andy and mom Angela had the prescription.
"My dad used to crush balls at me. It was just me and him and my mom in the stands. He'd hit me ground balls until I couldn't move. He told me that hitting will get you to the big leagues but defense keeps you there."
In 2013, Jonathan is at the hot corner for perhaps Corpus Christi's best defensive infield quartet: first baseman Erik Castro, second baseman Enrique Hernandez and shortstop Jiovanni Mier comprise the other three-quarters. Elder Orloff brother Ben, a utility infielder, recently retired from the Hooks.
Like many college and professional second and third basemen, Jonathan was his high school's shortstop.
"I'd never played third before pro ball," he explained. "Rodney Linares and Stubby Clapp coached me in Greeneville in rookie ball. I was taking ground balls there and since I'd played shortstop my whole life, I'd field them and be super-quick. Stubby kept yelling at me to slow down. I'd have to tell myself to slow down and relax, that I have more time.
"At third base, it's more of a reaction. There's not as much thinking involved. Balls are hit so hard that it's usually a step-and-dive or just a dive. Sometimes I surprise myself."
Like the time he failed to see a shot off the bat of San Antonio's Kalian Sams.
"He hit the hardest ground ball ever at me," Jonathan recalled. "It went through my legs and I didn't even see it. I came off the field and (Hooks manager Keith) Bodie asked, 'did you see it?' I told him no. He said, 'it's a good thing it didn't hit you.'"
Young Meyer was immune from hits on the football field because he didn't play… though he certainly had the ability and build.
"Matt Orloff and I were working the chains at a football game one night when I was a high school sophomore. At halftime we started throwing a football around, just throwing as far as we could. One of the coaches came up to me."
The exchange went this way:
Coach: Why don't you play football?
Meyer: I have a friend who's a quarterback.
Coach: You could be a quarterback.
Meyer: He's had three concussions.
"My dad was an offensive and defensive lineman at Ventura College," Jonathan said. "He told me I wasn't playing football."
But video games were different.
"My experience with football was playing Nintendo 64. The way I picked my favorite team was by the colors. I've always like the Patriots and people accuse me of being a front-runner. I don't think I am a front-runner, because I've liked the Patriots for a long time. I like their colors."
And Hooks fans appreciate the fact that Meyer is toiling this summer in navy and light blue, competing in a sport he's long loved and sacrificed for.
"I knew how everything was laid out," Jonathan said of his transition into the world of professional baseball. "I know some guys who've played in the big leagues. I knew that it wouldn't be easy… it'd be tough, a grind, a struggle."
With failure and success and growth.