Sunday afternoons at the sandlot, Jason was just a boy from Racine, Wisc., watching his father Francisco and the other men making a day of bats and balls and fun in an adult league over in Milwaukee.
"I can still see my dad playing right now," says Jason, the Oklahoma State junior and one of the top pro catching prospects in America. "It was awesome. A moment I'll never forget in my life."
A moment necessary if Jason Jaramillo was to become a ballplayer.
Racine is known for dairy farms and pumpkin farms. Fishing and boating. Massive Lake Michigan and many more scattered smaller lakes. Activities like hiking and biking.
And extended bitter cold.
Racine isn't known for ballplayers.
Jason Jaramillo may change that.
The air's chill that carries well into spring doesn't even allow for high school baseball in Racine. Those truly determined to play are left with few precious months in the summer.
But baseball was big in the Jaramillo household. Starting with Francisco and continuing with older sons Frankie Jr. and Lee, continuing with Jason and finally Alexis.
"This is a baseball house," says Francisco. "This is a baseball family."
Francisco brought a love for the game with him from Mexico, a homeland he left at just 14 years old, seeking a better life.
"I was just a kid with a lot of dreams," says Francisco. "Everybody was coming to the United States. So I wanted to go."
The journey eventually led him to Racine, where uncles had paved a trail. He found work. And a home.
At first, Francisco labored cutting cabbage in fields and on farms, loading the hauls onto trucks at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning. Seven days a week.
"But it was all right," Francisco says. "I was young. I just wanted to make the dollars."
He made a life, marrying and building a family. Today, down the road from Racine, Francisco runs his own business, Jaramillo Contractors.
He's busy. But not too busy for baseball. There's always time for baseball.
"It's been in our family as long as I can remember," says Frankie Jr., the oldest of the Jaramillo brothers. "Almost like a tradition."
The introduction began with Francisco, who had played in Mexican leagues as a teenager.
"My father would bring me and Lee to the ballpark," says Frankie. "We got in the mix and being around it, we tagged onto it."
Jason was seven and eight years younger than his big brothers. But as soon as he was old enough, he tagged along, too.
"It was kind of like our turn, and Jason would follow us to the games and even practice," Frankie says.
Pretty soon, Jason was in the middle of it, despite the age difference. And he never backed down.
"When we'd get home from college, Jason would always be there to take his cuts," says Frankie. "Jason was always interested in the game.
"We never let up on him. We pushed him. And he enjoyed the competition. He wouldn't like us to baby him."
Frankie and Lee both played in the minor leagues. Each remains close to the game still.
Lee is in the marketing department of the Milwaukee Brewers. Frankie, who has coached high school ball, returned to school after his pro career and will soon graduate from Wisconsin-Parkside, then seek out a return to coaching or an avenue with a pro team.
"I can remember my dad talking to them when they played minor league ball and they'd call home," says Jason. "I knew that was what I wanted to do early."
Baseball scouts and recruiters rarely venture into Wisconsin.
The trip just isn't worth their while, not with scores of prospects to see and evaluate and report in warmer-weather locales.
So Jason went to them.
With mom and dad at the wheel of a pickup truck, the Jaramillos hit the road, showing up at baseball camps across the country in the summers following Jason's sophomore and junior years.
They found their way to Minnesota. California. Iowa. Florida. Nebraska. Illinois. Kentucky. Indiana.
"I knew that playing in Wisconsin alone wasn't going to get me the exposure I needed to play down south, where I wanted to play," says Jason. "I had to get my name out there."
His name and his game commanded attention.
Jason was picked for the USA Junior National Team. OSU assistant Robbie Wine, a former catcher himself, envisioned him in a Cowboy uniform, but thought that was unlikely, even after Jason signed with OSU during the fall of his senior year in high school.
"We thought he'd be drafted and be gone," says Wine. "Especially after his senior year. He just kept getting better and better."
Baseball America, the game's leading source for amateur and minor league baseball, ranked Jaramillo as the top prospect in Wisconsin.
Apparently, Jason couldn't shake the Wisconsin reputation. Philadelphia drafted him, but not until the 39th round. The Phillies made a mild effort to sign him, but negotiations never got serious.
And Jason headed for Stillwater.
The experts missed on Jason Jaramillo the first time.
It's not likely to happen again.
"He's a real talent," says one pro scout in the area. "He's really got the skills, and he's got great character. He loves the game, and it shows."
The plan was to bring Jaramillo along slowly as a freshman. That didn't last.
Jaramillo shined at every opportunity, taking hold of the starting job. He did it all defensively and hit a team-leading .385 with nine home runs and 42 runs batted in.
As a freshman he hit .327.
OSU's catching tradition is stout, with Wine at the head of the class.
Might Jaramillo eventually be better?
"I hate to jinx him," Wine says, "but I have nothing bad to say about him. He has the arm. He has the bat. He has the baseball smarts. The sky's the limit.
"And he never stops working at anything."
New Cowboys coach Frank Anderson needed no introduction to Jaramillo. The pitching coach at Texas last year, Anderson strained his neck watching balls fly off Jaramillo's bat.
"The guy only hit four home runs against us last year," Anderson says with a laugh. "We wanted to shoot him."
Struggling at the plate until then, Jaramillo ignited a strong second half of the season for himself, popping the four long balls and driving in 11 runs as the Cowboys took two of three from the Longhorns.
While the Pokes would miss the postseason for a second straight year, leading to the dismissal of longtime coach Tom Holliday, Jaramillo never disappointed.
He was first team All-Big 12 and a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the top college catcher.
This preseason, he's been named a third-team All-American by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. He's listed as one of the Top 50 prospects by class and the No. 26 junior prospect overall.
Baseball America lists him as the "best defensive player" among draft-eligible catchers. And Jaramillo will likely be a finalist for the Bench Award this spring.
All that is fine, a hearty compliment for a kid from Wisconsin.
Yet Jaramillo remembers where he's from and what's important.
"It's definitely exciting to see your name and get that recognition you work so hard for," he says. "But I'm blessed with two older brothers who have been there. They keep my head on straight.
"I'm concentrating with the team I'm on now. I'm looking forward to winning now and going to Omaha. If you're playing college baseball and you're not focused on Omaha, something's wrong."
The Jaramillos embraced those long days and nights on the road to somewhere baseball was being played. Never did they consider it a bother.
"Quite a few miles in the truck," Francisco says fondly. "It was our vacation. Every time we went somewhere, I'm seeing the United States because of baseball. California. The Carolinas.
"It gave us the greatest pleasure."
Francisco and his wife Nora regularly pack up the truck and drive the 15 hours to Stillwater, sometimes beyond, just to see their boy play ball.
"My wife and I, every chance, we travel and see Jason," says Francisco. "I can't describe the feeling. Just numbness."
For the games mom and dad can't make in person, they huddle around the computer to take in the Cowboys over the worldwide web.
"My wife and I, we get together a half-hour before every game," Francisco says. "Whatever I'm doing, I don't do it anymore. No work. My wife, too. No shopping.
"My wife and I promised never to miss a game. We eat. Listen to baseball."
Thanks to GoPokes.com for allowing us to reprint their original profile on catcher Jason Jaramillo.