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L.A.-area prep program produces recent MLB draftees

By - Aug 04, 2017

By Bianca Barajas/For The Sporting Nation

Jacob Faria paved the way for three other fellow alumni draftees from Cerritos, California's Richard Gahr High School, reaching a 5-1 mark in the first 10 starts of his Major League Baseball career.
Jacob grew up in nearby Anaheim but spent most of his time in Artesia, where his biggest fan lived: his grandfather. His grandfather’s biggest dream for Jacob was to one day have “Faria" on the back of an MLB jersey. Now with the Tampa Bay Rays, Faria made that dream come true. 
“He passed away in 2014 but I know he has the best seat in the house from heaven watching all my games,” said Faria.
Faria spent every day at the school baseball field aspiring to pursue his dream, until his biggest dream became a reality. Faria always enjoyed game days and prided himself on wearing his jersey during school hours. Not only did Faria learn about baseball through his coaches, but also essential life lessons.
“There are so many things in my life I owe to high school baseball,” said Faria.
June of 2011 was no typical day in high school for Faria. He was getting so many calls while sitting in class that his parents had to pull him out of school early. The pitcher’s day dramatically turned hectic when his anxiety of what team was going to take him during the draft burdened him. Live on his laptop, from his mother’s and stepfather’s kitchen table, was how he heard his own name being called out.  
Faria was drafted in the 10th round by the Rays as a pitcher. The Rays gave him a chance and he took it even though they weren't even a team he had initially spoken to.
“I just wanted to find out where I was going to land and which team would give me a shot at my dream,” said Faria. “The draft was a crazy experience, it's filled with so much excitement and anxiousness but at the end of it I was relieved once I knew I had the opportunity to live out my dream.”
It was an extremely difficult decision for Faria, since the recent 17-year-old high school graduate had committed to California State University-Fullerton his senior year of high school and he had already known some of the coaches growing up. Despite being his dream school, he knew he wanted to immediately start his professional career.
“The Rays have a good reputation with developing young arms and that's something that I was excited about,” said Faria.
Faria’s family has always been supportive of following his dreams and never took this experience for granted. Although it was tough leaving his family, they have always been so excited for him, which made it easy for him to pursue his dreams. His father visited him quite often as well as his high school sweetheart (and currently his fiancé), Jessica Soto.
 “When they visited it was awesome because it felt like a piece of home was there with me,” said Faria.
“Jacob has grown so much from the time I watched him in high school to who he is now when I see him on the big league mound,” said Soto. “He works a lot on the physical and mental side of baseball and it's showed within the six years. I see him more calm now pitching in front of 40,000 people than I did in high school when he pitched in front of 100 people.”
Faria played for six affiliates of the Rays before making his MLB debut June 7, 2017. Faria started off in the rookie level in the Gulf Coast League and then played short season rookie ball in Princeton, West Virginia. From Princeton, he headed to low-A ball in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
In 2015, he started the year off in high-A ball in Port Charlotte, Florida and excitedly moved up to Double-A in Montgomery, Alabama. From Montgomery, he played in Durham, North Carolina for the Bulls, the team made famous in the movie "Bull Durham."
“When I made my debut I just thought 'I made it.' I’m here. Everything I've been through and what I've put people through, it was worth it because I'm here now,” said Faria. “Also a big part of me was just thinking about my grandpa and how excited he'd be to see "Faria" on the back of my jersey.” 
In the fall of 2010, Faria and his father went to Arizona for a tournament and the hotel had screwed up his reservation. The hotel then gifted him a goody bag with snacks apologizing for the inconvenience, which included a little rubber duck. Faria kept the duck with him for the whole season and adopted it as his "good luck” charm.
“Some Rays fans asked me if I had any good luck charms and I talked to them about the duck and they created "Faria's Flock" which is a fan club based off my rubber duck,” said Faria. “It's pretty awesome because fans will bring me ducks so I have a nice collection going.”
Faria’s advice to the other former draftees that came from the same roots of Gahr High School’s baseball program is, “to trust yourself and your ability to keep working hard as well to not let anyone tell you no.” 
“Another big thing is to always have fun because that's what's most important and probably why you fell in love with the game in the first place,” said Faria. “Always remember being that kid and chasing that dream and never let go of that feeling, especially on the long, rough days.”
Kevin Franklin found himself playing for Gahr High School’s baseball program as the starting third baseman and was selected as the school’s first nationwide high school All-American in its 65-year history. 
Franklin had his mind focused on the prize as he successfully obtained a scholarship from Arizona State University as a junior. Franklin had inherited a strong mindset as a high school athlete and struggled to maintain friendships with his fellow peers. He said he “combatted a semi-failing social life with being on the field where I felt as if I was in a world away from everyone else.” 
“Choosing to not attend weekend events with my fellow peers really allowed me to focus on the task at hand,” said Franklin. 
Franklin’s goals led him to where he finally wanted to be and that was playing professional baseball. 
“Having these goals helped make my baseball experience to be one of the greatest my school has ever seen,” said Franklin. “I was sitting on top of the world leading up to the June 2013 Major League Baseball Draft, where I was selected in the second) Rround, 67th overall by the Cincinnati Reds.”
Leading up to draft day in 2013, Franklin was in contact with the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Brewers, where he was invited to fly out to take batting practice and work out in front of the head decision makers and also performed very well.
During draft day, Franklin had missed two phone calls while nose deep in his favorite meal his mother cooked that night. Moments later, his agent screamed a six figure number and asked if it was OK.  (
“I said “Hell yeah! Take it, take it,” screamed Franklin. “He tells me to turn on my TV, which I complied and literally 30 seconds later I hear my name called in New York City on live television. It was a moment in my life that I will never forget and I was able to share it with the woman that made it all possible, my mom.”
On top of Franklin hearing his name called out during the draft, that was the moment he knew school was “essentially out the door.”
“Based on how much I would be receiving in bonus money I couldn’t turn that down and decided not to attend ASU that fall,” said Franklin. “A decision I knew was for the best but would not hinder me in the future to wanting to eventually earn my degree.”
Franklin played for a few teams in high school leading up to his professional career. He and his very close friend J.P. Crawford, who is now playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, used to travel all over the country together during summer tournaments in front of hundreds of scouts which helped him keep the nerves down knowing they were together and chasing the same dream. Franklin is now playing at Single-A Dayton, Ohio. 
Franklin visits his old stomping grounds of Gahr High School from time to time but not as much as he initially hoped.
“I now go back as much as I can and make it a point to re-visit the people that had my back from Day 1,” said Franklin. 
Life has definitely changed for Franklin, he has faced many hardships in the game as a professional player dealing with failure which he never really dealt with in his high school career. Franklin struggled but when people acknowledged him, he felt as if people treated him as if he was a “hero” but they had no idea what realities he had faced at the time. 
“This boosted my ego for a short while, but I still knew the realities that I faced, I’m not a hero, if these people only knew,” said Franklin. “At 22 years old I can finally say that I feel as if I’ve come into my own and realized that my confidence is solely based on my own way of thinking and not of others. This game will humble you in many ways, I thank God for it every day.”
Advice to his professional Gahr alumni is to always remember that they hold a special key that can potentially open many doors. 
“Never waste a day being discouraged by the thought of failure,” said Franklin. “Because in this game failure is meant to only make you stronger, so that we will appreciate our successes that much more. We owe it to those who consider us heroes to not take advantage of our title, but use it to make a positive impact on each and every person we encounter along the way. Keep up the good work boys, we will get where we all want to be one day just have faith, but most importantly have fun.”
Jaime Estrada from Los Angeles had big hopes and dreams of playing professional baseball one day. Estrada came from Gahr, where he had the “time of his life” playing the sport he loves most and was noticed by many scouts with the help of his coaches. 
Estrada committed his senior year to Central Arizona College where he had the opportunity to play for the Vaqueros. 
Estrada faced challenges leaving home for the first time but knew he had what it takes to one day play professionally. One thing he always held onto is that his coaches have always told him, “Focus on your goals.” 
Estrada performed very well for the Vaqueros, ending with a .373 batting average before his high hopes of becoming a professional athlete became a reality. 
“It was just a dream come true,” said Estrada. “My family and my father always knew I had it in me and it was an opportunity of a lifetime that I just had to take.”
Estrada was drafted in the 26th round in 2016 by the Baltimore Orioles and signed for $75,000, and is currently playing rookie ball in Florida.
Estrada was in touch with a scout from the Orioles organization and was keeping a close eye on the draft tracker while listening with his brother at the same time.
Estrada does go back to visit the high school where his dreams began to hit and play catch to get better during the off season.
Teams that have made an impact and got Estrada where he is now are the Boyle Heights Dodgers, Norwalk Stingrays, Tomateros de California, Gahr High School and Central Arizona College.
 Estrada has high hopes for the other Gahr alumni and believes they will all one day see one another soon.
“Just keep working hard and hopefully I'll see them on the same field in the big leagues,” said Estrada.
Recent Gahr alumnus Je’Von Ward from Long Beach graduated in June of 2017 and has started his new life out of high Sschool playing rookie ball for the Milwaukee Brewers in Arizona. 
“Now I'm a professional athlete and pursuing my dreams... I have a job instead of having to sit in a desk everyday,” said Ward.
The 18-year-old credits a pair of high-school coaches.
“High school baseball wasn't the best experience of my baseball life but Pep and Perez definitely made it better,” said Ward. “I learned so much from them but the biggest thing I could take away from what I learned from them was to enjoy the game and have fun day in and day out.”
Ward believes the baseball program at Gahr has been the best experience even though he was not there for all four years of high school. 
“The one year I was there, it was not like any other program in Southern California,” said Ward. “Perez and Pep were the coolest coaches I've ever had, and words can't describe how much I truly appreciate them.”
Ward was astounded when he answered a phone call while he was rehearsing for his high school graduation. Already committed to University of Southern California, receiving this phone call amplified the difficulty of his choice.
“My family support from top to bottom was unreal, they were behind me 100 percent whatever decision I made and whatever outcome it came to they supported me without a question,” said Ward. 
Ward played for many teams before getting drafted and those teams consisted of: Area Code Brewers, Perfect Game All American Classic West Team and Gahr his senior year. 
“I will definitely continue to go back and visit, especially because I have a little brother going there next year as well,” said Ward.
Ward’s advice to the Gahr alumni is, “Remember to enjoy the game and have fun. Appreciate every second of this while you got it because you never know when it'll end.”
Gahr High School’s baseball program is run by head coach Gerardo Perez and assistant coach Jose Miranda, who goes by "Coach Pep."
Miranda believes Gahr baseball is “first and foremost a winning tradition.” 
“Individuals with unique abilities who bring their talents together in order to reach a higher goal or purpose, beating teams that have with kids who have not and whether it's money, notoriety, size, strength, etc,” said Pep. “We try to teach baseball through life lessons and life lessons through baseball and after all is said and done, whether it's while the kid is still here or one year after they leave or five years after, they all come back and let us know how much they appreciated being part of the program. We are always appreciative of all of our kids who went through our program.”
Gahr High School’s baseball program has created professional athletes and has made a name for itself for bringing out and establishing professional players who have excelled and are on the verge of becoming more than just Major League Baseball players. 
“We are a family. It's not always "sugar and spice," Miranda said, "but we challenge our kids to try to be the best versions of themselves on a daily bases, whether they like it or not." 



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