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How Jean Segura has stepped up as a Mariners leader with Canó out

Signing a long-term deal with the Mariners went a long way for Jean Segura. (AP)

Last week after a game in Houston, Mariners manager Scott Servais revealed that in a mound visit with a struggling pitcher Jean Segura gave the group the heads up on what he saw the hitter at the plate trying to do. The information was good. As a hitter, Segura could identify.

The surprise was that he spoke up.

Jean Segura should be an All-Star, but he needs help from Mariners fans

That hadn’t been his role in the past. That was something Robinson Canó would do, but Robbie is out serving a suspension. For Segura, it is only natural that he would fill that role. Is it stepping up in Robbie’s absence? As Segura takes pains to point out, he does not believe he is a leader, but there is perhaps a deeper, more personal reason why we are seeing what we are seeing from him this year.

“I don’t want to get involved, ‘Now he wants to hit, now he wants to pitch, now he wants to be the leader,'” Segura said while sitting at a table in a buzzing visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field last week. “I just want to help the team get better. Just because when you have been in this league for a little while and you get the security, you just want to win.”

The security Segura is talking about is the five-year deal the Mariners signed him to last June. For Segura, that contract has made all the difference in the world both on and off the field.

“I think as a player when you get your contract, it gets you relaxed,” he said. “It gets you safety and you don’t have to worry about anything family-wise. My family was real, real poor. When you know you have to put some food on the table for your family, it gets a little harder. You begin to feel your 0 for 4, 0 for 5. The next day, I need to do good. There you go, there’s the pressure as a player. I don’t have to deal anymore with those situations. To be here and be able to play the game I love with no pressure, not having to worry about anything, it makes your job easier.”

From humble beginnings

Segura grew up three hours from Santo Domingo in the inland town of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic. The house he was raised in had dirt floors, walls made of wood and a tin roof. Like just about every kid in the D.R., he grew up watching and playing baseball. For many of those kids, however, baseball is more than a game.

“My dad used to play, my mom used to play too,” said Segura. “As a kid, for me, it was the only opportunity to give my family a better life was to play ball. For me, it was a challenge because I had to quit school early to play ball.”

The decision to leave school at 15 to play ball is a decision that Segura doesn’t seem to have quite reconciled even today.

“At the time, probably it was not the best situation for me or best choice I made in my life, because when you are young and you quit school to play sports it’s not right, it’s not what the kids are supposed to do,” he said. “But at that point, it was different. I had to choose because when you go to school there it’s not a great way to finding a job. After you finish it’s not like here where you go to school, you graduate and you finish your school and you know you are going to find some real good work to get a little bit of money to live. But over there, that’s not enough. I see a bunch of guys, a bunch of friends finish school and they still haven’t found any jobs. Sometimes I had to help, you know, to keep moving forward. As a kid, I was growing up with that set in my mind.

“I think my opportunity is to play ball.”

Segura got his opportunity when he was signed by the Angels at 16.

“When I get my signing bonus I just gave that money to my parents to build a house,” he said. “It was fun. As a little kid you always want buy a car, buy some nice clothes, you know. As a kid, sometimes when you have money you want to show the world, you want to show the people that you are good, you are comfortable, you get money for your hard work. I gave all my signing bonus to my family. We kind of spent all of the money on the house but the money always goes away, comes back and forth, but the good thing was we have a house, we live comfortable, and when I bring a friend to the house we can represent.”

He spent his first year as a 16-year-old professional playing for the Angels in the Dominican Summer League. While he was signed and had the signing bonus, he was just one of many hopefuls at that point.

“When I signed, my chances weren’t good,” he said. “I didn’t start real good – I started bad. And one of my friends over there was a trainer and he grabbed me one day and told me and said, ‘Stay away from those guys, be here close to the coaches so they can see you and put you in the lineup.’ I started to do that and played really well. I finished .327 or something like that and they brought me to the US.”

A new world

At 17, Segura arrived in the US speaking no English and having not finished high school. His job was baseball, but he made an effort to make up for what was lost in his time away from the ballpark.

“Every day I had the mindset that I had to learn some new words,” he said. “Every day. So I ordered some pizzas, I was getting on the phone talking to some friends, (laughs) sometimes to the ladies. It was fun because every day I tried something different. In English, sometimes when you get involved in baseball, it’s kind of like everything is almost the same because all the words that you hear, that you learn is just all the words around baseball.”

In recent years there has been a better focus on helping the Latin American players in the minor leagues learn English. The Mariners are particularly committed to this with language labs provided at every level in the minors and classes at their Dominican Academy. It is still a monumental task on top of trying to survive in baseball to master the language.

“Sometimes, a lot of people from the Latin community, they are scared of the language, they are scared about speaking English,” Segura pointed out. “When you are scared to speak it you are never going to learn. For me it was a challenge because every time that I had to move around, the English got more difficult. Every level you go, you advance, you have to deal with the media, you have to do interviews, you have to communicate with the fans. And to me it was great because every level, you communicate not well like I do it now, but I got a little bit, people understand me. I am one of those guys that likes challenging things because the easy ones, everybody can get. So I am one of those guys that the goal is the hard thing. The goal is to try and do the hard thing that not everybody can do.”

Perhaps this is how he continues to be among the league leaders in hitting. Perhaps this is why Segura has become more vocal in the absence of team leader Canó. Perhaps this is why he clearly has not become too comfortable after getting his big contract.

Settling in as a leader

Don’t let the sweet smile or the relaxed demeanor fool you. Jean Segura is driven.

“There’s definitely a difference between this year and last year,” said Mariners teammate Kyle Seager. “He’s almost more engaged. He was obviously trying hard last year but you can see he is having more fun, picking up on little things more than in years past. He’s been really studying, putting a lot more emphasis on everything. He’s legitimately taken control out there. Shortstop is supposed to be your leader in the infield and he has absolutely done that. He’s been absolutely awesome.”

Segura grew up incredibly poor and has suffered great tragedy, losing his 9-month old son in 2014. He credits Canó in saving him when he was at his lowest, a time when he was considering quitting baseball. He has found a home in Seattle, a team and community that has embraced him. He recently bought a house on the Eastside and beams when he tells me “I can see the ocean from my window.” He’s in a good place with a growing family, son No. 3 on his way.

Everything is in place for Jean Segura to play great ball, and that is exactly what he has been doing, stepping up and becoming an invaluable piece of the 2018 Mariners.

“It is one of those deals that he was so close to Robbie that with Robbie being gone you were kind of wondering how it would be,” said Seager. “And he’s really come out of his shell. Even more possibly, where he is really taking charge of the infield, where he’s getting on everybody, he’s picking on everybody, he’s playing with everybody, he’s just been genuinely happy. He’s been a lot of fun to play with.”

“I thank God he gave me the opportunity to play the game I love,” said Segura. “I know at some point it was not the best decision to quit school and play baseball, but God had a better plan for me, so I do it. I listen, I do it as hard as I can. To make it, to continue to play the game I love, and to me it’s awesome to see how grown up, as a player as a person, as a family, as a husband.

“Sometimes when you get money that I got at a young age, sometimes you get out of your mind, a bunch of trouble, a lot of people around you do not get you the right way. Now I feel I am a better person. I have been playing this game for a little while now so I think it is time to go to the next level, to compete and play in the playoff games. I have never been in the playoffs. I want to be there. I think it is every player’s dream, go to the World Series and win.”

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