This past winter, I got to know John DeRouin and some of the staff at local baseball resource, Hops Athletic Performance. Hops AP is a sports and conditioning resource facility for youth athletes, and is owned by Physical Therapist and Baseball Expert, Matt Hopkins. John and a few of his classmates held a charity indoor baseball tournament utilizing the batting cages at Hops Athletic Performance and the Hit Trax system. And John has stayed in touch with me throughout his baseball season at CCRI and now this summer.
John emailed me a few weeks back after seeing a few posts of mine involving RI players who have moved on to the Cape Cod League and even professional baseball. He texted me that he will be running a clinic this summer with a local RI baseball star, whom he thought would be a great story for RI baseball fans get to know. That player is Cranston’s Jeff Diehl, who I recently got to know through email. Jeff and John’s camp flyer is below:
Here is an excerpt from my conversation with RI’s Jeff Diehl, who told me a story that seems straight out of a Hollywood movie. Except this story actually happened.
RIBBE – Jeff, thanks again for agreeing to do this. So growing up in Rhode Island, did you play youth baseball? If so, for whom? What was that experience like for you? Any state titles or championships?
Jeff – Growing up in Cranston, RI I got involved playing organized baseball at age 7 with CLCF which is a Cal Ripken league. My experience was some of the best times I’ve ever had playing the game. Our teams won the 9U, 10U, 11U, and 12U year old state championships. Though we never won the New England Regional, we were always a tough out and our best finish was 2nd my 12 year old year.
RIBBE – How about the next phase in your baseball youth development? Was it AAU, a travel team?
Jeff – After my 12U season, I went on to play in the Cranston Babe Ruth league. And in my 13 and 14 year old years division, our team won one RI State championship during that time. I also played for Western Hills Middle School baseball team during my 7th and 8th grade years (Cranston didn’t have middle school sports my 6th grade year ) . We won the state title during my 8th grade year. At age 15, I stopped playing Babe Ruth and played for the American Legion Post 20 team and in the fall played in the RI Amateur League for Westcott. Growing up my dream was always to play professional baseball and from a young age that’s all I ever thought about doing.
RIBBE – What was/is your primary position?
Jeff – My primary position was always catcher but during youth baseball and middle school I also pitched and played some infield and outfield. I ended up being drafted as a catcher out of high school.
RIBBE – How did you manage with the weather being such a factor in Rhode Island most of the year as opposed to say sunny Southern California?
Jeff – The weather never really came into play with me because once I entered high school and the cold months rolled around I was either playing football or basketball. I played football my freshman and sophomore years. Sophomore year I was the varsity quarterback but stopped playing after that to give myself some more time to focus on baseball… I played basketball all four years and our team won the state championship my senior year.
RIBBE – When did the scouts start showing up for HS games?
Jeff – Scouts starting showing up starting my junior year at Cranston West High School. They even attended a couple basketball games to see what type of athlete I was.
RIBBE – How was the process of getting drafted? Stressful? A lot of letters and phone calls I’m guessing. When were you selected in the professional baseball draft? And by whom? Do you remember where you were and what that felt like?
Jeff – The draft process was an exciting time for not only myself but my family as well. It was a lot of letters in the mail, phone calls, and scouts at the house interviewing me. I was drafted in 2011 in the 23rd round by the New York Mets. I was actually playing in Game 2 of the RI High School State Championship against North Kingstown at McCoy Stadium when I found out I had been drafted. My dad came down towards the dugout from the stands and broke the news to me. My next at bat, I hit a home run – which has made for a good story.
RIBBE – How was the competition at Single A, Double A? I’m not sure how high up you got, so feel free to expound on the various levels of professional baseball you played at. What was Spring Training like? Did you attend?
Jeff – In 2017, I ended up making it to High A in the Florida State league where I made the all star team. The competition in that league was really good and filled with a lot of top prospects. Unfortunately my year was cut short due to injury. Never got the invite to major league spring training but I attended minor league spring training every year from 2012-2018. Spring training was basically a month of the same schedule everyday Monday-Sunday with 1 off day thrown in. Spring training wasn’t a get in shape camp for the season so to speak. We were expected to be in shape and ready to go from day 1 to make a team. A normal day would be getting to the field around 7am, eat breakfast, get a workout in, and be on the field from 9am -noon practicing. We would get an hour lunch break and games would start at 1pm.
RIBBE – What was it like playing for Brooklyn with the backdrop of Coney Island in the neighborhood (Side note: I lived in Brooklyn for a few years)?
Jeff – I spent parts of two summers in Brooklyn playing for the Cyclones ( 14’ and 15’ ). I loved living in Brooklyn during that time and playing for those fans. The atmosphere at MCU Park is unmatched through all levels of minor league baseball. Some of my best memories playing pro ball come from my time in Brooklyn.
RIBBE – When was it time to call it a career? How was that feeling? A relief? Disappointment? Did you feel that an injury shortened your career?
Jeff – In 2017 my season was cut short due to injury. I had two disc herniations in my lower back ( L4-L5 + L5-S1 discs ). I had surgery towards the end of 2017 and the Mets reassigned me for the 2018 season as a pitcher. I spent all spring training and extended spring training going through the position change process. Unfortunately, I was never able to get back to 100% and I ended up asking for my release mid season. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a disappointing way to end my career but I’m thankful for all the opportunities that I had and that I was able to ride it out for as long as I did.
RIBBE – What advice would you give RI baseball prospects who have hopes and dreams to make it in professional baseball such as yourself?
Jeff – My advice to anyone trying to make it to professional baseball would be to play hard, have fun playing the game and to work on your craft everyday. I’m looking to stay in the game and teach lessons and maybe even coach one day. Pro ball gave me the opportunity to play the game I love every single day and I’ll always grateful for that.
I want to thank John DeRouin, Matt Hopkins for introducing me to RI’s Jeff Diehl, who climbed the baseball ranks from Cranston’s CLCF, through Babe Ruth, Western Hills Middle School – all the way to the professional baseball ranks with the New York Mets farm system. I loved the story about his home run at McCoy after he learned of his name being called by the Mets in the 2011 draft. Memorable to say the least. Maybe Jeff will get a chance to play himself in the Hollywood adaptation of that event.
In the meantime, Jeff and John will be running a Pro Style Baseball Clinic this August. The clinic will take place at Cranston West High School, with a rain/weather option at Hops Athletic Performance, Coventry. Contact John at 401.525.6506 for more information about the clinic. Looks like an amazing week of baseball for players ages 13-16.