“He’s the ultimate competitor." -- Pacific Head Coach, Former Cal Pitching Coach Mike Neu
The earliest baseball memory that Daulton Jefferies has is being told that he couldn't do something.
“I was playing T-ball," said the California right-hander, who's projected to be a second-round pick in today's Major League Draft. "I was hitting, of course. I was playing T-ball, and I hit a ball and it went over the fence, but it was a ground rule double, and I thought it was a home run. I was so confused. I was mad at my dad, because he told me to go back to second, but I had it embedded in my mind that I had hit a home run, and I was really excited.”
There, in the middle of the Mitchell Senior Elementary grass field, John Jefferies -- Daulton's father -- had to break the news. It wasn't pretty.
“He looked at me like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,'" John said. "He was so excited he hit a home run, because even before he had played T-ball, he was swinging bats and hitting Whiffle balls up on the roof, and sometimes, he’d get them over the house. Any time he got them over the house, we would call that a home run, so that’s exactly what he thought he had done, and he just looked at me like I was wrong.”
It's ironic that Jefferies -- whose calling in life is to prevent home runs -- is fascinated by the longball.
"He's always liked to watch guys hit home runs," John said. "Any tim there was a Home Run Derby on, even if it was a Home Run Derby from five years ago, he'd be glued to the TV, watching it."
Daulton Jefferies's careful and quiet stoicism rarely cracks, but it did, for the only time, back in 2001, when he, his parents and their colleagues at Quad Graphics (which prints People Magazine, and a publication which Daulton may one day grace -- Sports Illustrated) saw Barry Bonds hit home runs 71 and 72 off of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Chan Ho Park.
"It's the only time I've ever yelled at a baseball game," Daulton said.
"We would wander into the suite and get something to eat and stuff, but any time he came close to getting up to the plate, we were out on the balcony, watching," John said. "After he hit the second home run, the first thing he wanted, we had to get one of the t-shirts, because they already had them made up."
Jefferies tends to take after his father's understated nature more than his mother's boisterous and outsized personality, which has gotten her kicked out of more than a few games over the years. "She's got a couple," her husband laughed. "She has a few. It's only because she's spirited and protecting her son."
“She’s been that fiery, loud mom that everyone can hear throughout the entire baseball complex, ever since I was growing up as a kid, playing travel ball," Daulton said. "I say I don’t like it, but I secretly love it, because she’s there, and she’s supported me, and she’s letting everyone know – everyone – that she’s supporting me, and that I’m her son.”
Lisa Jefferies -- a native of Midland, Tex. -- is every bit the Mama Bear, but as fiercely protective as she is, her son hasn't had things easy on his way to the Major Leagues.
He’s been dropped by the school he committed to. He’s broken his pitching arm. He’s had his nose smashed so thoroughly by a metal bat that the doctors said it resembled a bag of crushed potato chips. His grandfather -- whose initials he wears on his cap -- passed away the day before his birthday, just before the start of this school year, from Stage IV melanoma.
Dropping from the first round – projected No. 24 overall – to No. 57, thanks to a sub-scapular muscle strain? It just means that Jefferies will just have to wait a little bit longer to hear his name called on Thursday during the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
“I can’t really control anything now," Jefferies said this week. "I just have to focus on just getting back out there and starting my professional career.”
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1662594-daulton-jefferies-... That's been Jefferies's motto his entire baseball life: Control the controllable. It's what he told his teammates as he recovered from his shoulder injury -- a sub-scapular muscle strain.
“I’m not a vocal guy, but I remember telling a couple guys: We have to control the controllable, not try to do too much, not try to win, just do what we do, and take it one pitch at a time," Jefferies said.
His shoulder injury -- which cost him eight weeks -- came on the heels of a calf strain brought on by conditioning, with a possible minor SLAP tear. Missing all that time, Jefferies said, was the worst experience of his baseball life. Watching the Bears lose six straight Pac-12 series crushed him.
“Knowing him, I knew it did. Did he show it? No," pitching coach Thomas Eager said. "You could look at his face, and it was like, ‘Damnit.’ He wanted to be out there. During the week, though, he was a great professional. I don’t think he tried to be a distraction, and just went through what he had to go through to get better.”
One scout said that up to 80% of pitchers in the Major Leagues are pitching with SLAP tears, but the fact that Jefferies missed four weeks last season with biceps tendonitis may have spooked some teams.
“The first thing we asked the doctors was, is this going to be a long-term thing? They said, 'Absolutely not,'" Jefferies said. "A lot of big leaguers and a lot of pro guys have gotten over it, just like I have. We sent them the doctors’ notes and the MRI, and we can’t really control what their doctors say or anything like that. It’s just good that I’m back, that I’m healthy and that I’m throwing harder. I feel great after my outings. Scouts really haven’t said much, but I expected the drop.”
"Daulton’s a pretty tough kid," said his older brother, Jake Jefferies, a 2008 third-round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Jake -- along with fellow Merced native Eager and now-Houston Astros right-hander Doug Fister -- found that out, first hand, on July 1, 2003.
A Near-Death Experience
“He was a guy that was just always around. He was a baseball rat. I think he just wanted to be around his brother as much as possible," said Eager, who played on the same American Legion team as Jake Jefferies, and, like the Jefferies boys, grew up in Atwater and Merced.
While future 18th-round pick Logan Wiens -- Eager's best friend -- was taking his warm-up swings on deck for the Merced Volunteers in a summer Legion game, Eager went to get a bat. Seven-year old Daulton bent down to pick something up. All Jake, Eager, and John Jefferies -- Daulton and Jake's father -- heard was a sickening tink.
"We all huddled around him, it was a scary sight," Eager said. "You could hear the loud clink, and Daulton’s a pretty tough kid, and you could tell. I think he might have handled it better than you or I would.”
The bat had come around and hit young Daulton in the face, the only thing slowing it down was the bill of the helmet he was wearing.
"His first reaction was that h kind of swung at the guy, tried to throw a punch," Jake said. "I specifically remember turning, seeing him swing and miss, then fall down."
John leaped over the low fence to tend to his son, as Fister wrapped a shirt around his bleeding face. Wiens moved forward to try to comfort Daulton, who didn't cry out, didn't wail. He was just in shock.
"I didn't actually see him get hit," John said. "I heard the sound, and looked over, because it was probably 12 to 15 feet in front of us."
Somebody -- none of those BearTerritory asked could remember who -- called 911. When Daulton heard the sirens, that's when he started to cry.
"He only started crying when he heard the sirens, and he said, 'Mom, I hope that siren's not for me,'" John said.
Daulton was in the hospital for two weeks, with his eyes swollen shut. Lisa never left his bedside. John would drive back and forth to home and get changes of clothes.
"He had a washcloth over his eyes for a week," John said.
Now, the only thing left from that ordeal is a thin, y-shaped scar on his nose. You can't see it unless you're sitting right across from him.
Jefferies, during his on-camera interview with the Pac-12 Networks in the season finale against Washington State, said that teammate Ryan Mason (the subject of the previous afternoon's interview) had bowled two perfect games.
"I've bowled two 280 games," Mason joked afterwards. "I think that bat may have hit him in the head a little harder than he thought."
His teammates can joke now, but at the time, it was far from a laughing matter.
"They said he was very, very lucky," John said. "His nose was completely gone, flattened. They said it was like trying to put crumpled up potato chips back together. It was a nose and his forehead. He was very, very lucky. If it would have gone a few centimeters more, he would have ended up with some brain damage."
By the time Daulton was nine, John still wanted to toughen Daulton up a bit.
Jake -- John's oldest son -- wanted Daulton to be a catcher, but, the two being half brothers, Daulton didn't get the 6-foot-1, 225-pound physique that allowed Jake to strap on the tools of ignorance. He was wispy, tall and thin. So, catching wasn't going to toughen him up -- although he treasured the catcher's mitt and gear Jake passed down to him every summer. John, being a former high school linebacker, thought that he'd put Daulton in football.
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Jefferies was completely on board. After breaking his right arm during recess basketball when he was 10-years old -- going up for a rebound, and then coming down on a rolling basketball from an adjacent court -- he got back into throwing by throwing a football.
“We put him in football because we wanted him to develop some more toughness, not thinking that he was going to be the quarterback," John said. "We thought maybe he was going to be a tight end, where he was going to have to block somebody, or a defensive end, where he'd have to tackle somebody, and they put him at quarterback. In practice, he wears this red shirt and nobody can hit him. You shook your head at that one."
Jefferies remembers Saturdays where he'd play football in the morning, and then truck it over to travel baseball in the evenings.
"I was busy," he said.
Football, though, lasted for only a year. Baseball was always his first love. In fact, when he broke that arm, it was just one week before he and the Backyard Boys -- a travel ball team associated with Backyard Baseball -- were to head to Cooperstown, NY, for a June tournament.
"We got a call from the school's nurse, saying that he had fallen on his arm, and the first question we had was, 'Which arm was it?'" John said. "When they said it was his right arm, I remember his mom and I looking at each other, and all I remember is rushing down to pick him up and take him to the doctor."
A week later, Daulton was on the steps of baseball's Mecca. With all the exuberance his 10-year old body could muster, he bounded up the ramp to the museum, cast pumping though the air, cutting the entire line. His father had to reel him back.
“I didn’t want to stay home and do nothing," Daulton said. "I wanted to be around baseball. Those guys, growing up, were like family. We stayed the night at each other’s houses all the time. Being with them was like being with a second family.”
Daulton doesn't remember anything in particular -- a plaque that drew his interest, or an impactful exhibit -- but he remembers the awe.
"He knew the grind," Jake said. "He knows that he’s going to have to ride the bus, and do these other things, but it goes back to loving the game. If you love the game, and you love playing it, and that’s what you think about all the time, the bus rides aren’t that bad, because you’re moving on to the next spot, getting to see the country and getting to play the game that you love, and, if you’re a high-round draft pick, which I assume Daulton will be, then the team treats you pretty well."
He's already been treated well. He's pitched at Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park, working out for both the Dodgers and Red Sox, and has been attached to the Dodgers in the first round as the draft looms.
That's why, this past offseason, after spending the first part of the summer with the Collegiate National Team, he worked with Eager -- newly hired as the Bears' pitching coach -- to refine what was then a developing slider. First, though, Eager had to put Jefferies's curveball in a box.
“He’ll probably laugh about it, but I took away his curveball, well, I didn’t really take it away; I just told him it was terrible," Eager laughed. Eager told Jefferies he could get it back later, maybe. It was like trying to wean a child off of their favorite pacifier. “They’ve got to make the choice. You can’t just force it. You’ve got to give them options.”
Once Eager found the key to Jefferies's head -- treating the slider as a cutter -- he unlocked a pitch that helped the righty fan 53 while walking only eight in 50.0 innings as a junior.
Jefferies's biggest jump, he said, has been his aggressiveness on the hill.
“Attacking hitters, getting them to earn their way on base, rather than walks -- I hate walks," Daulton said. "If you ask anyone on the team – especially Joey Matulovich – I tell him, every time he takes the mound, I tell him not to walk anyone. I walked two guys against Washington State, and he looked at me in the dugout, and said I disappointed him. If I get in a 3-2 count, I just tell myself that I’m going to throw a strike and I don’t care if he gets a hit, but I’m not going to let him get on base for free. I’m going to make him earn it. Mike Neu always told me that 60 percent of balls in play are outs, so I’ll definitely take my chances on that.”
Now, all he needs is one team to take a chance on him. He's not stressing. He's at his grandmother's house, with his parents and his brother.
“The big thing was knowing what kind of pitcher I am," Jefferies said, as he looks back on his development. "I’m a guy who can control both parts of the plate with the fastball – or any pitch – and I work off my change up and my slider, and it keeps hitters off balance. The big thing is to figure out what kind of pitcher you are.”
And that's all he can control.