FORT MYERS, FLA. – C.J. Cron had the opportunity most kids dream of, but he let that pitch go by.
Cron was 5 years old when his father, Chris, a former major league infielder, began managing minor league teams in the White Sox system, and the youngster spent much of his childhood in dugouts from North Carolina to Alabama to Montana, alongside his dad. Inevitably, those teams would offer to let him wear a uniform and fetch bats after hitters dropped them.
C.J. said no.
“I guess a lot of kids love doing that, and I could have been a batboy,” Cron said. “I said I’d rather keep score in the dugout during games. Might as well learn something.”
Now that’s a kid bred for the analytics era in baseball.
“He’s very smart about the game, very calculating out there. He works hard and has a good understanding of what it takes” to succeed, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s a guy we see impacting us offensively — but I don’t like taking anything away from his defense and his baserunning abilities because he lets me hear it when I don’t mention those things.”
Manager’s son, see. He knows baseball is more than just hitting.
“Baseball is really all I ever knew. I mean, when I learned to walk, it was on a baseball diamond,” said Cron, whose father is now manager of Arizona’s AAA team, the Reno Aces; whose younger brother Kevin is a first baseman in the Diamondbacks’ system; whose second cousin Chad Moeller had an 11-year career in the majors, including the 2000 season with the Twins, as a catcher. “The game just runs in the family. I knew it was what I wanted to do, too.”
But if Cron loves the game more than most people, baseball hasn’t always loved him back. His five-year career is oddly pockmarked by rejection, despite consistent production. Both of his previous teams unceremoniously dumped him, the Angels in a trade for a player to be named later in order to clear at-bats for Shohei Ohtani, the Rays simply by waiving him despite a 30-homer season, just to avoid paying him a $5 million salary.
And in his four seasons in Anaheim, where he reached double digits in homers every year and never posted a batting average lower than .248, the Angels demoted him to Class AAA eight different times, only once because of an injury.
“They blew through my options by sending me up and down, up and down. Obviously, that gets old,” Cron said. “The first few times, it bothered me a little bit, but I realized pretty soon that nothing productive was coming from that mentality. You’ve just got to keep your head on straight and keep playing.”
The Angels occasionally told him that it wasn’t his play, but their sudden need for a roster spot, that made him temporarily expendable, but it didn’t help. “They can tell you whatever they want. It doesn’t make a difference; you’re still going to be on the next plane out,” he said. “So I just took it with a grain of salt and kept my head down.”
The constant back-and-forth had an effect on his production, too. “As a ballplayer, I feel like everyone’s goal is to have that situation where you can play every day, where every if you go oh-fer, you’re not going to get sent down, you’re not going to get benched for a week,” said Cron. “When I got to Tampa Bay, just having that confidence helped me tremendously.”
Now he’s a Twin, for the low price of a waiver claim, which came as a surprise to both Cron and his new team. “You don’t see many 30-homer guys on the waiver wire, no question,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer. He consulted Baldelli, who was a Rays coach while Cron was there, and heard nothing but positive reports.
“We were exploring what our options looked like if Joe [Mauer] retired, and then he made that decision a lot easier,” Falvey said. “So that worked out well for us.”
For Cron, too. “I liked Tampa because they gave me an opportunity to play every day. But they said they had to make a tough decision, I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m super happy to be here. It’s a great fit, and I can’t wait to get going with these guys.”