From Draft day to Mexico
Imagine that you are 19 years old– fresh out of college– and you are about to board a flight from your hometown to Toronto because the Bluejays just drafted you in the 20th round of the 2010 MLB draft. Experiencing being drafted isn’t a reality for the majority of people. However, it is the beginning of Leone’s first baseman Art Charles’ baseball journey. It would see him sign with four major league organizations, receive a slew of awards in the minors, and eventually become a league champion.
¨Baseball has a way of humbling you.¨ is Art’s advice as we took our seats overlooking player warmups. We discussed his draft class, what led him to Mexico, how it felt winning the Championship, COVID, and how he feels about seeing his long-time friend going to Tokyo this summer. Throughout the conversation, I noticed an overriding theme in Art’s life– his pursuit of remaining humble in a game that is sometimes dominated by and rewards ego.
One in 200 is the odds of high school seniors getting drafted by an MLB team, and just 11 in 100 are the odds of College players making the draft.
In many ways, baseball is a game of beating the odds– after passing through three MLB organizations, racking up several accolades, and becoming a league champion– it’s safe to say that Leone’s first baseman Art Charles has beaten the odds throughout his career.
It took being released by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016 and finding himself playing independent ball before he decided to stop worrying about numbers and return to the game he grew up playing as a kid back home in Bakersfield, CA.
He found peace and started having fun again. He was free of the stress, the expectations of beating the odds, and his game reflected that. However, before his last stint with the Milwaukee Brewers, he received a call from former teammate and college host Jonny Jones, who told him, ¨You should look into playing in Mexico.¨
Still, at the time, Art was focused on making it to the big show ( the major leagues) and thought that playing independent ball in the states provided him a better shot at attaining that goal. After being released from the Brewers organization in 2017, he remembered what Jonny had told him and gave him a call. Art was on his way to Mexico.
For a short time in July 2017, Art found himself with his former college host before being included in an enormous end-of-season trade, moving thirteen players between the Vaqueros Union Laguna and Leones De Yucatan.
The following season, 2018, felt different for Art– ¨You should go to a casino and put it all on us winning the League Championship this year.¨ he remembered telling a friend. It had been 12 years since the last time the Leones hoisted the LMB championship trophy and 11 years since they were division champions, so why did this year feel so different?
The team just clicked; the clubhouse felt different on the opening day of 2018 as the Leones took the field, eventually going 72-41 for the season. The following year in 2019 saw the Leones win the division and lose the repeat by a single game– the 2020 season looked like a return for the Leones as the core team remained. They were poised to seize the championship when the pandemic struck, and the LMB decided to cancel the 2020 season.
What does a baseball player do without baseball?
The 2020 season saw baseball canceled in Mexico. As a guy who had become accustomed to playing year-round, Art found himself like many others during the pandemic– sitting around the house living off savings, expecting it to blow over in two weeks. Weeks dragged into months, and Art’s signing bonus began to dwindle; he had to do something he had not done since college– he joined the working world. It did not take long for Art to find he hated it.
So what does a pro-baseball player do for work? If you were around Bakersfield in the summer of 2020, there’s a good chance you would have received a call from or approached by a 6’4 inch 220 lbs life insurance salesman. Although he had a strong start, Art’s life insurance sign-ups began to slow down with the pandemic continuing to stretch on.
Next, Art became a system administrator for a technology firm, installing companies around the Bakersfield area. Then finally, in 2021, the LMB announced baseball would be returning to Mexico.
Art couldn’t wait to return to the field. He told his boss and colleagues that he wouldn’t be back. Then, along with his two brothers– who also play– started training vigorously to get back into playing shape.
Once pre-season training began, Art hopped on the first flight to Merida, but just because baseball was returning didn’t mean he was going back to the same life he had when he left. The LMB had instituted new COVID protocols.
A friend; he in the Olympics
I will be doing another story going into more detail on Art and Jonny Jone’s decade-long friendship. Still, even with all the accolades that Art has had in his career, it seems like the most joy is being able to watch a friend and teammate make the journey to being an olympian.