Modesto, California —— “Cole Wiper eats chicken nuggets with a fork!!”
That’s the first thing Jose Trevino ever said to me.
Well, he didn’t say it as much as he yelled it. And it wasn’t directed at me, per se, but rather at Wiper, a right-handed pitcher in the Texas Rangers’ organization who I was interviewing in the visitor’s locker room beyond the left field fence at Modesto’s John Thurman Field a few minutes before midnight on a random Wednesday last May.
Trevino was in a good mood after his High Desert Mavericks had wrapped up a win against the host Modesto Nuts an hour earlier, and his way of celebrating was by trying to trip up Wiper’s big moment. It didn’t work—Wiper blocked out the chicken nugget-related heckles like a pro—but my introduction to Jose Trevino told me a little something about the catcher.
Fast-forward two weeks.
The Texas Rangers’ catching prospect and I meet again, this time at the Mavericks’ dusty home ballpark in Adelanto. I was down at the end of the third base (home) dugout two minutes before game time, staking out my spot in the camera well and preparing to shoot the game, when Trevino—who was catching that night and had just come in from warming up the starting pitcher—walked right up to me.
“How are you doin’ man, everything going good?”
He reached out for a fist bump, and looked me dead in the eye with intensity a world away from the earlier chicken nugget incident with poor Cole Wiper.
“Watch us go win a game today. It’s a great day to win a ballgame.”
“Yeah, man,” I responded, dumbfounded. No player—especially no starter—had ever sought me out at the end of the dugout like that before. “Do your thing, Jose. Let’s go.”
Twenty minutes later, in the bottom of the first inning, Trevino slugged a line drive home run to left field. He rounded the bases, ran back in through his teammates’ line of fist bumps and butt taps, and walked straight back down the dugout all the way to me, pointing the whole time.
“I told you, man,” he said, reaching out for another fist bump. “It’s a great day to win a ballgame. Let’s go.”
That, too, told me something about Jose Trevino.
And so it went last summer.
High Desert kept winning, Jose Trevino kept leading, and I kept marveling at how he had the ultimate respect and admiration of his teammates without ever demanding it. No egos, no emotions, no drama that seeped out from beyond closed clubhouse doors; just a young catcher who wanted to win baseball games with his friends and have fun doing it. He and I spoke a lot that summer, checking in at least every week or two as we simultaneously criscrossed the Cal League. There was the night we talked during High Desert’s postgame July 4th fireworks extravaganza that, in retrospect, was not the wisest time for an interview. If Trevino had confessed that night to eating chicken nuggets with a fork, I never heard it over the booms and pows going on above our heads.
But through it all, and above all, Jose was consistent: intense and highly focused on the field, and loose and relaxed off it. I always knew what I was going to get with him, and I came to appreciate that consistency. In fact, the only time I saw Jose get emotional was on the late July afternoon when High Desert teammate Travis Demeritte was traded to the Atlanta Braves.
The trade came down early in the morning, twelve hours after Demeritte had crushed two home runs in a game against the Stockton Ports the previous night. By the time I got to Heritage Field, Travis was already on his way to the airport, and the Mavs were taking early batting practice without him.
Trevino and Demeritte had spent two summers playing together, and riding buses together, and sharing shitty hotels together. They went through the low point—Demeritte’s 50-game drug ban—and then worked up through the infielder’s resurrection and return to prospect status in the Rangers’ system. But in one sudden moment, Demeritte was gone, somewhere on the road to LAX to catch a plane to North Carolina and the Braves’ High-A club. And Trevino was back in Adelanto without his friend, now a world away from chicken nuggets.
“Good ballplayer, better dude. He’s going to get some opportunities in the Braves’ organization,” Jose told me, trying to push through it like any other conversation on any other day, but clearly still wearing the shock of the trade on his face. “Good for him, man. But it’s really hard to see him go.”
Trevino and Demeritte genuinely like each other, and not just in that we’re professional colleagues and we have to kind of like each other sense. Trevino’s natural tendency towards leadership found a willing partner in Demeritte’s despair after the failed drug test in 2015, and in between the lead-up to the suspension and the aftermath with Demeritte’s rise back to relevancy, the two men formed a bond.
“It was awesome to see him grow through that, man,” Trevino said when I asked him about Demerrite’s path back to baseball. “It’s like, everybody makes mistakes, you know? But he looks you in the eye and he fesses up to it. It was a hurdle in his path, man, and he jumped it, he got around it, and everybody has noticed it. He’s different this year. He’s doing his thing, man. I’m proud of him.”
“Hopefully I’ll keep in touch with him.”
On that day, too, I learned something about Jose Trevino.
Near the end of the season, a month after the Demeritte trade and with the Mavericks thick in the stretch run of what would be a championship summer, I was interviewing Rangers pitching prospect Shane McCain after batting practice on a hot, dry afternoon in Adelanto. McCain was having a good year coming out of the bullpen for High Desert, and we were in the midst of an enlightening discussion on how the lefty was planning on transitioning to a more specialized situational role, when something happened behind me on the stadium concourse.
“I know as I move up, the Rangers will want to see me get left-handers out more, but,” McCain started, before he abruptly stopped mid-sentence. “I’m sorry, hold on, it’s this guy. This guy has been trying to get me the whole time.”
I spun around to a familiar refrain from a very familiar Texas Rangers catcher.
“Ask him about how he eats his chicken nuggets with a fork!”
McCain started to laugh as Trevino snickered and jogged off towards the clubhouse, clearly proud of himself for disrupting another interview.
“That guy’s incredible,” McCain turned back to me and said unprompted, still smiling at the chicken nugget accusation. “Go back and look at every staff he’s worked with. Every team he has been on has won the first half. He’s the common thread of every team that the pitching staffs have been so good. I mean, come on, this is one of the best pitching staffs in High Desert history, and you know what? That’s all on Jose.”
Collin Wiles, another pitcher who spent an incredibly formative summer throwing to Trevino in High Desert, backed up McCain’s take on Trevino over the winter.
“He’s one of the best game catchers I’ve ever seen,” Wiles said. “It’s a comforting feeling knowing that when you’re going against a team, say they beat us in the first game. Well, Jose already has all these notes, all these things in the back of his head, and he won’t let them beat us again.”
That should tell you something about Jose Trevino.
On the first day of the 2016 Arizona Fall League, less than an hour before game one between the Surprise Saguaros and Mesa Solar Sox at Surprise Recreation Campus, I was in the camera well of the first base dugout getting my equipment ready for the day.
“Oh man, you again,” a voice behind me called out. Well, I thought to myself as I turned around, at least it’s not chicken nuggets this time.
It was a jolt for me to see him in a crisp, clean Texas Rangers uniform after spending all summer watching him in Mavericks gear. He was beaming ear-to-ear—happier to be wearing the Rangers’ colors, I guessed, than to see me—and he looked every bit the part of a big leaguer. Ten seconds into our conversation, though, and we might as well have been back on the dusty, wind-swept stadium concourse in Adelanto. No egos, no drama, the same man he’d always been—but with a much better uniform.
A few days later, the Salt River Rafters visited Surprise. On my list of interviews to get that day with Salt River: Travis Demeritte. As Travis and I were in the middle of a conversation, the new Braves infielder was bumped from behind by his old High Desert buddy in the first time the two were reunited since the trade three months earlier. A handshake, a hug, and a few laughs later, I saw my moment to get a little light-hearted revenge for all the chicken nugget disruptions.
“Travis, when you got traded to Atlanta, what was it like to have a real catcher calling pitches for your new team?”
Travis didn’t miss a beat.
“Man, let me tell you, that was the best thing ever,” he said as Trevino started laughing. “Best thing ever.”
But just like Shane McCain did a few months’ earlier, as Jose turned and walked out of earshot and before Travis could return to our earlier conversation, the infielder offered an unprompted follow-up on the Texas Rangers catcher.
“Man, he’s a good dude,” Demeritte said, smiling. “He’s a really good dude. I’ve missed him. That’s one of my best friends. I really missed him.”
The last time I saw Jose Trevino was the afternoon of my final day at the Arizona Fall League.
Jose wasn’t playing that evening, and so he was out on the field early signing autographs for fans. He saw me hanging out and walked over, and we got to chatting about how much better it was to play at these big league spring training facilities than in the unforgiving conditions of Adelanto’s Heritage Field.
“We all told each other, you know what, we’re going to get through this together,” he said about his unforgettable year in High Desert, a conversation bizarrely juxtaposed by his perfectly clean Major League Baseball uniform and legion of autograph seekers waiting patiently for us to finish talking. “In High Desert it was like, no matter what you have that day, you’re going to battle for us, and you’re going to survive. If you’re a pitcher, you’re going to give us five innings. And if you can’t give us five, give us four strong, and do whatever you have to do to get through your innings. And I always told everybody about that place, remember: we still get to hit. We always get the last at-bat.”
That’s commendable, and it bodes well for Trevino’s future, but what really happened in 2016? In six months, the Texas Rangers catcher went from Cole Wiper’s heckler to one of the ball club’s best prospects, won a championship ring doing it, and then held his own in the game’s strongest offseason league. Along the way, dozens of teammates and opponents spoke glowingly to me about him. I couldn’t find one person that didn’t openly admire him. The scouting reports tell a story, and the talent is there, but there’s something bigger happening around Jose Trevino.
“It’s just making friends with everyone, man,” the Texas Rangers catcher said, shrugging when I asked about the reputation he’s creating for himself. “You never know who you are going to run into down the road. You’re out here, so you might as well make friends while you’re playing, and you might as well be a good person. People talk about changing the world, but you know what? Just be a good person. Have a lot of friends. Be friendly. Maybe that’s a little philosophical, but it is what it is.”
Much will soon be written about Jose Trevino.
The Corpus Christi native is back in his home state playing for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders, and Texas Rangers fans around Dallas will be well advised to visit Frisco a time or two this summer to watch Trevino work. Beat writers and bloggers alike will pen pieces on the exceptional young catcher as sabermetricians attempt to quantify the unquantifiable aspects of Trevino’s knack for winning.
Scroll through the RoughRiders’ social media feeds and it’s already apparent they see Trevino as a marketable future Rangers star in Frisco this summer. Hell, in two weeks I’m releasing a book about the contraction of High Desert and Bakersfield from the California League and a sizable portion is about Trevino. Everything you’ve heard about him is true: he’s incredibly competitive, a natural-born leader, an exceptional teammate, a talented catcher, a winner, and a better person than he is a ballplayer.
It hasn’t always been this way for the Texas Rangers’ budding star.
“A few years ago I used to think to myself, can I really play pro ball? Can I do this? And I had to keep telling myself ‘yeah, I can do it,’” Trevino recalled in our final interview. “I can do it if I go out and have fun. And you know what? As soon as I made it fun, that flipped the switch. The last few years have been like recess for me. I just keep having fun, and that makes me want to work harder, and then I have more fun. Once I stop having fun, I’m done, but for now? Man, I’m having a blast.”
Jose Trevino’s career will begin again this week in Frisco, in a gorgeous stadium that boasts a lazy river swimming pool out in right field—a metaphorical world away from Heritage Field’s “grass” berm of rocks and weeds that led out to a pothole-strewn road the city of Adelanto couldn’t afford to finish paving.
It’s a little bittersweet; as Jose takes a step closer to the big leagues, he simultaneously steps ever further away from his past in Spokane, and in Hickory, and in the visitor’s clubhouse in Modesto with poor Cole Wiper, and in the final game he’d ever play as Travis Demeritte’s teammate, and on that night a dumb reporter tried to interview him in the middle of a fireworks show.
But he’s also stepping towards a new set of fans, in a new city, for a new team, and with new memories to be made. Just as it was when I first took notice of him with High Desert, the new stories, and the new memories, will collectively tell you something about the Texas Rangers catcher.
“I just want people in Frisco to sit back and enjoy the show, man,” he said. “Watch us work really hard. Watch us win a few games. If it’s Frisco, or Round Rock, or Arlington, it doesn’t matter. I love to win. My teammates love to win. Watch us win. We know how to lose, and we know what to learn from a loss, but man, we love to win. And if we do it? Hey, the sky is the limit.”
Maybe that’s all you ever needed to know about Jose Trevino.