By Steven Urena
(Some Q&A with Jesse Ibarra)
High School: Don Bosco Tech High School.
College: Loyola Marymount University.
Draft: 1993, 5th Round, Minnesota Twins. 1994, 4th Round, San Francisco Giants.
Pro Ball: 8 total seasons.
Urena: You played two years of college baseball, got drafted twice, and played a total of 8 years in professional baseball. Tell us about your journey. What was the draft process like? What was it like playing in the minors for so many years? What did the daily grind look like during the season and off-season?
Jesse Ibarra: The draft process was one of the best times in my life. It was a dream come true. I grew up collecting baseball cards, having posters of Darryl Strawberry and Will Clark up in my room, and watching the Dodgers with my dad and brothers. The idea of being considered to play pro ball as a young college kid was humbling and unreal to me at the time. It was a very exciting time in my life. Getting that call from the Minnesota Twins was such a surreal feeling that I’ll never forget it.
Playing in the minors was a blast but definitely a grind. The camaraderie, daily competition, and opportunity to travel and see different places were probably the best part of life in the minors. The 16-hour bus rides, brutally hot summers, crummy hotels, no days off, and fast food diets were a grind and not so fun. All being said, I would not trade that experience for anything. It was great.
Urena: You had incredible moments in pro ball. Share with us some of your most memorable memories.
Jesse Ibarra: My summer of 1995 was by far my most memorable year. I have always been a very streaky hitter. That year was crazy because I started the year in a terrible slump and–basically–got benched for the entire month of April. I didn’t hit my first home run until May. What made this summer so memorable is that I got onto a hot streak that never really ended until the end of the season. During the hot streak, I had three, 3 home run games and almost won the triple crown.
Because I initially got off to such a slow start, I did not make the All-Star team. My manager had to fight for me to be a last-minute addition, and I only got one bat that game (a hit). That season, I ended up winning League MVP, and I was in the mix for Minor League Player of the Year. What can I say? It was just an insane case of being locked in and in the zone the whole year. Unfortunately, I was never able to fully replicate that again.
Urena: One season, you hit 34 home runs. In your professional baseball career, you hit 131 home runs. Did you try to hit home runs? What was your approach? Share with us your hitting strategies and philosophies.
Jesse Ibarra: My approach has always been to try and hit home runs. I pretty much swing as hard as I can on every pitch. This is what made me streaky. I also broke a lot of bats by hitting balls off the end, which is a sign of overswinging. When I was hitting well, I was hitting for average, and my strikeouts were down. My goal was to stay inside the ball and try to hit the ball to left-center as a lefty and right-center as a righty. I found the key to hitting with power was staying inside the ball. As a hitter, you must hit the other way with authority but ALSO get the bat head out in front with a strong whipping action.
Urena: What are some differences in professional baseball now and when you played?
Jesse Ibarra: Aside from what I watch on TV, I really wouldn’t fully know, but I have a few observations. Small ball is one. You definitely saw a lot more bunting and fundamentals when I played. Launch angle, what the heck is that? When I played, you swang slightly down on the ball for backspin or level through the ball. Back in my day, Travel Ball was not needed to get a baseball scholarship. You played locally, and scouts came to see you because they’d heard about you or noticed your stats in the paper.
Urena: You played 1st base, 3rd base, and catcher. Which position was the toughest? What are some defensive tips and fundamentals you learned?
Jesse Ibarra: All of them were tough! I sucked defensively! I was most comfortable at first base, but teams kept sending me to the instructional league to learn how to catch because I had a plus arm. Third base is called the hot corner for a reason. Boy, did I see some rockets there at the pro ball level.
The best defensive tip I can give is to practice, practice, practice. Growing up, I loved to hit, so I only worked on my hitting. I was obsessed with it. Unfortunately, I neglected my defense, and as a result, I ended up always being a below-average defender. Always practice all aspects of your game equally. You need hours of practice under your belt to approach the game with the confidence needed to be successful. My offensive confidence was always higher than my defensive confidence, and you want to avoid being in a spot like that.
Urena: Tell me your craziest story from the minor leagues.
Jesse Ibarra: I have so many crazy stories, but they probably shouldn’t be shared here! I grew up a huge Darryl Strawberry fan. Like I mentioned earlier, I even had his NY Mets poster up in my room as a kid. In 1997 I was invited to Big League Camp with the Detroit Tigers. During a game with the NY Yankees that spring, I’m playing first base, and guess who comes up to hit? You guessed it, my man, Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry hit a grounder to me, deep in the hole at first. We then go into a full-on sprint to the bag, and I beat him by a foot. It was just crazy to think that as a kid, I never would’ve thought that I would be fielding a ball from him during a big league spring training game.
The Urena Express appears every Wednesday at JoeTorosian.com
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