By Zach Braziller
Jonathan Bobea has major-league scouts tracking him, Division I schools vying for his services.
The world is his oyster — just as it was two years ago when the 6-foot-1 right-hander from Flushing was drafted by the Anaheim Angels, offered a major college scholarship by Kentucky yet somehow ended up at Queens College and working as a doorman instead.
“Here I am,” he says, with an awkward smile and uneasy laugh, “on scout day.”
Life had come full circle last Sunday for Bobea, the former Francis Lewis dynamo with the low-90s fastball who just finished up his sophomore year at Monroe College. He was back pitching in front of scores of scouts, in the Scout’s Scrimmage, a showcase organized by Ian Millman, his former coach at Lewis.
Bobea was surrounded by the city’s top high school prospects, hopefuls who would die for the chance he once had.
In the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the Angels took him in the 19th round (549 overall), making him the first baseball player drafted from Francis Lewis since Mike Jorgensen was taken by the New York Mets in 1966. It was a “crazy” moment, he said then, an achievement he often dreamed of.
Anaheim, however, never offered him a contract. The team saw him in a summer tournament a few weeks later when he was lit up and didn’t like what they saw. Family issues he wouldn’t go into were wreaking havoc in his life.
Communication was cut off. When it became clear Bobea wouldn’t go pro, Kentucky came into the picture. They offered him an abnormally high scholarship of 85 percent — baseball scholarships aren’t typically full — as the draft had opened up money for the SEC school that spring. But Bobea spent just a single day in Lexington and came home.
Bobea initially declined to go into specifics, other than to say it didn’t work out. When pressed, he opened up, talking about the disappointment of not signing with Anaheim. It didn’t matter what college came into the picture: His passion for the sport had waned.
“You get drafted out of high school, that’s your dream,” he recalls. “I wanted to go pro. I was a little depressed. I felt like I didn’t want to play baseball again.”
He wanted to be home, to forget baseball. He took several months off and enrolled at Queens College, got the job as a doorman, forgot the sport he played since he was a toddler.
“That was the best thing that happened to him,” his father, Luis, said. “He found himself. He really found out baseball was part of him. He knew he would regret it later on if he didn’t play again.”
At Queens College, he went out for the team. He quickly realized this wasn’t what he envisioned. When he warmed up one day, the team’s catcher said he couldn’t see the ball because Bobea was throwing too hard. Instead, he had to throw against a fence to get ready.
“He would pick it up and throw it back to me,” he recalled.
He didn’t last there, but the itch was back — he was clocked in the 90s his first day on the mound.
“I thought God gave me a gift — I should use it,” Bobea says.
He spent last summer playing in an ACBL league on Long Island and transferred to Monroe College, which was in earnest the beginning of his comeback. At Monroe, he had an experienced coaching staff led by head Coach Luis Melendez and assistant John Foster, a former major-league pitcher with the Atlanta Braves, to push him like Millman once did at Francis Lewis.
In the fall, he had numerous talks with Melendez regarding his hopes, what he wanted to get out of the coming season. He credited Melendez with improving his work habits, always a strength of his at Lewis, with teaching him to become a more responsible person, along with a better pitcher.
By the spring, he became a team leader and was the program’s best pitcher, going 5-1 with one save, 65 strikeouts and 19 hits in 45 2/3 innings pitched and a 1.94 ERA. He threw 17 straight scoreless innings at one point.
“He has something special in that arm,” Melendez raved.
Scout and Division I schools took notice of his brilliant spring. Bobea has pre-draft workouts set up with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Braves. Florida Atlantic, Coastal Carolina and Maryland are intrigued by Bobea and his big right arm. He’s been offered a professional contact in Japan and has been invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod league as well this summer.
He’s back where he began, with a future that seems endlessly bright.
“It’s funny — I have options,” he says. “Let’s see what happens.”
Bobea showed off his potential in the Scout’s Scrimmage, getting that fastball of his up to 92 mph with late life and darting movement. One scout, who also saw Bobea at Monroe, said he expects him to get drafted because of his “pitchability” and he has a “good arm” with “good action” on his fastball, the scout said. Millman, who Bobea still goes to for advice, sees the same potential he saw at Lewis.
“I’m as high on him as I ever was,” Millman said.
Bobea says he’s prepared for what’s to come this time around, ready to deal with whatever adversity and disappointment may loom. Going pro is his first choice, but attending a four-year school wouldn’t be a bad option either. The last two years have made him ready to finally take the next step.
“It all taught me a life lesson, the lesson of being a man, being tough mentally and physically,” he says. “Life throws things at you and you need to deal with them.”