AVON — Lorain native and Amherst graduate Antone DeJesus has played baseball all over the country.
But as a professional, he had never participated in a game in his native Lorain County.
That changed this weekend when DeJesus’ Gateway Grizzlies traveled to All Pro Freight Stadium for a three-game series with the Lake Erie Crushers.
DeJesus had a large following of family and friends at Friday’s and Saturday’s games. On Friday, he spent a half-hour after the game hugging family and friends, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
“It feels great to be back,” said DeJesus, who is in his sixth year of professional ball after a successful stint at the University of Kentucky. “We had a good crowd out here (Friday night). A lot of family members showed up. It was a good time.”
DeJesus was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 16th round of the 2007 Major League Draft and advanced as high as Double-A Springfield of the Texas League. But after two seasons at Class AA, the Cardinals released him, beginning his life as an independent player.
This offseason, he signed with the Frontier League’s Grizzlies, who are based in Sauget, Ill., partly because it is so close to St. Louis.
He also weighed an offer from the Crushers, who tried to sign him for the 2011 season.
“I think getting away from home (was a factor),” DeJesus said. “It’s nice to be home, but at the same time, it’s good to go out and experience new things and new places. Baseball’s blessed me with the opportunity go out and see different places.”
DeJesus weighed an offer from the Crushers last offseason, but joined the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the North American League. Between the WhiteWings and the Edinburg Roadrunners, DeJesus had his best professional season, hitting .343 with two home runs, 34 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.
DeJesus was highly impressed with The Freight.
“This is the first time I’ve been here, and I think this is probably my favorite place to play,” he said. “The atmosphere is great here. Maybe if I had seen what it was like here before (I made my decision), I might have signed here.
“It’s a great place to play, and I’m glad everyone got to come out and check it out. I’m happy this is in Lorain County and the fans can experience this right in their backyard.”
The 2004 Lorain County Mr. Baseball Award winner is still holding out hope that he can find his way back into affiliated ball.
DeJesus’ season has gotten off to a rough start. He took a .203 (12-for-59) average into this series with one home run, eight RBIs, three runs scored and no stolen bases (he was caught in his only attempt).
Lorain County will have another representative in the Frontier League this season.
Brookside graduate Steve Grife, who did not report to the Washington Wild Things for training camp and began the season on the suspended list, signed his contract on June 5 and rejoined the team. So far, though, Grife has struggled, giving up four earned runs in 32⁄3 innings for a 10.81 ERA in two relief appearances through Friday.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.