"I started playing baseball when I was four." It seems like a pretty standard response from any serious ballplayer, and especially for a professional shortstop like the ValleyCats' Alex DeGoti (pronounced "de-Goat-ee"). How many MLB players didn't pick up a ball at a young age?
"When I was 10, I went to Cooperstown, and in the semifinal game, we played against a team out of California. After the game, their first base coach came to speak with my parents, and asked me if I wanted to play baseball with their team out of California."
How did you play out of California if you were living in Miami?
"They would fly me out."
They flew you out to play baseball?
"Yeah. I'd go to school until Thursday or Friday and then they'd fly me out to play tournaments."
DeGoti, who models his game after legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, played with the Orange County Hawks for six years, a travel ball club out of Mission Viejo, CA, until he was 16, when he started to get looked at by colleges.
"When I was 16, I went to the Junior Olympics in Arizona," DeGoti said. "My coach for the Hawks knew a bunch of scouts and college coaches in the area, and he brought over Long Beach State."
Jesse Zepeda, the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Dirtbags, liked what he saw.
"He has good hands, and that's what you want from a shortstop," Zepeda said. "On top of that, he has an infectious personality, the guy that takes charge on the field."
About a month after JO's, Troy Buckley, Long Beach's head coach reached out to Alex, and flew him out for a private tryout in Southern California, where he then scheduled an official visit, and offered Alex a scholarship.
"I had other schools looking at me, but after playing with a team out of California for so long, I fell in love with California," he says.
After dozens of trips and flights to and from the Golden State, you'd think it would be hard to maintain a social life, get homework done or just enjoy being a teenager.
"Not really," DeGoti said. "I actually gained a ton of friendships in California and playing summer ball, which allowed me to meet people globally, not just in Miami."
DeGoti spent three summers in Canada with the Victoria Harbour Cats of the West Coast League, a team that is playing its fourth season in 2016. Alex, who currently holds their single-season steals record with 18, played in each of their first three seasons.
Buckley had a relationship with Dennis Rogers, the inaugural manager for the Harbour Cats, and wanted Alex to get some experience playing for a coach with elite experience.
"The first thing I noticed was his Miami swagger, just a charisma about him," Rogers said. "When he came to us, he hadn't played much in his freshman season at Long Beach, but made an impact in the league, city and program."
Rogers has spent time with the Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations, and 51 of his former players have moved onto the major league level. In his first summer with Victoria, DeGoti his .286 and tied for the team lead in runs. The team asked him back in the summer of 2014, when he hit .296, scored 31 runs and led the Harbour Cats with 12 doubles.
"People started to get to know me there, and like how I went about my business,"
DeGoti explains. "I wasn't going to go back for a third year, because my coach wanted to send me to the Northwoods League [in Wisconsin], but he wanted me to go to the team from Canada [Thunder Bay Border Cats].
"I was like, 'If I'm going to go back to Canada, I'm just going to go back to the Harbour Cats."
Fast-forward a few months to the end of the 2015 summer season, his third in Victoria. The infield at Long Beach State was crowded, so much so that DeGoti decided to transfer to Barry University, a Division II school ten minutes from his home in Miami.
"I wasn't playing enough at Long Beach; I was stuck in a platoon," DeGoti said. "I only played against left-handed pitchers. For me to be able to play at the next level, I had to be able to play every day to show what I can do, so I had to make a move."
DeGoti had a big season for the Buccaneers once he was able to get the playing time he desired. He started all 49 games for the Buccaneers and hit .404 with 14 homers, 22 steals and 58 runs batted in.
Fast-forward a few weeks now to the MLB Draft, which took place from June 9-11. DeGoti had been in contact with a few area scouts, but on the third day of the draft, received a call from the Philadelphia Phillies.
"The Phillies said, 'Hey, we're taking you with the first pick in the 16th round,' and I'm looking at the picks, looking at the picks and everybody's getting close to the TV," DeGoti said. "Next thing you know, Houston takes me… and I had no idea they were going to take me."
The Astros had called DeGoti on Day 2 of the draft, telling him he was at the top of their board, but didn't select him untilSaturday.
"Alex has had a lot of different challenges in his career, whether it's playing time or injuries," Zepeda says. "I played in the minors, and I know how hard it can be. He's the perfect kid, and I couldn't be prouder of him."
The scout that selected him was Charlie Gonzalez, a former Florida-based scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, and now a special assistant to General Manager Jeff Luhnow.
"When I just got taken I just started crying, man," DeGoti said. "I had my grandmother and my grandpa, my family, who's done everything for me my whole life. It's just emotional, because of everyone that's doubted me my whole life."
Who's doubted you your whole life?
"Everyone, man. I never believed any of it, and that's what drove me."
Getting drafted, though, wasn't all that Alex DeGoti has strived for. His ambitions reach much further than a draft board.
"Being here [with the ValleyCats] isn't my ultimate goal. I'm not just happy to be here. I want to get to the top."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.