Cecchini continues to learn by example

JUPITER, Fla. -- Spring training hadn't even begun, and one Cecchini already had gotten a big promotion.

It wasn't Gavin, the 21-year-old shortstop prospect with the New York Mets, who this spring got his first invitation to big-league camp as a nonroster player.

It wasn't his brother Garin, the 23-year-old third base prospect with the Red Sox, who last season spent 11 heady days in the big leagues.

And it wasn't Raissa, who may have no rival in the "Mothers Who Are Also Hitting Coaches" competition.

No, the Cecchini creating ripples in the baseball world was Glenn Cecchini, father of Gavin and Garin, husband of Raissa, and head baseball coach at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, winners of seven state championships and named the best high school team in the country last season.

In January, USA Baseball announced that Cecchini, who had been an assistant in previous years, would be head coach of the 18-and-under national team that would be playing in Nishinomiya, Japan, in the 2015 World Cup.

"How about that?" Garin said in Fort Myers one morning when someone mentioned his dad’s new gig. "His kids play for Team USA and win gold medals, and he gets a frickin’ job? And (former shortstop) David Eckstein is one of his coaches."

Garin (2009) and Gavin (2011) had each indeed won gold medals with USA Baseball before they were drafted. There are few families that can compare to the Cecchini clan in its depth of commitment to the game. Not when both parents coach and both sons are in major-league camps.

"The Ripkens top us," Cecchini said with a laugh, referring to the first family of Baltimore, sons Cal and Billy both big-league players -- Cal an Orioles icon -- and Cal Sr. a coach and manager. "But give us 15 years."

Cecchini had ended last season, when he hit his first big-league home run on Sept. 24 off Jake Odorizzi of the Rays, fully intending to push for a permanent promotion from Pawtucket. Will Middlebrooks had struggled mightily last season and had trouble staying healthy, and Cecchini sensed an opportunity.

That all changed, however, when the Red Sox signed free agent Pablo Sandoval to a five-year deal to play third.

"I was working out and checked my Twitter," Cecchini said, recalling how he learned of Sandoval’s signing. “Ben [Cherington] called me and said, ‘Hey, you probably heard, but we’re signing Pablo.'

"I was like, 'All right, I'll learn from him.' What can you do? You can’t control that."

Cecchini absorbed one of the tougher lessons of his young professional career last season, when over a two-month period in Pawtucket he endured the most prolonged slump he’d yet encountered. He hit .194 in June, .188 in July.

“I mean, who thinks they’re going to suck for two months?" he said. "Never happened. When I was going through it, people said, 'This is good for you.' What do you mean, this is good for you? I don’t do this. I don’t suck.

"There were a few nights I’m thinking, 'What do I do?' I tried everything. And that was the problem: I tried everything, instead of going back to, 'Keep it simple, stupid.' "

It did wonders for his mindset, Cecchini said, to end the season on an upswing. He had a slash line of .333/.413/.500/.913 in August for the PawSox, and counting the playoffs batted .357 with 15 extra-base hits in his last 30 Triple-A games. In addition to his home run off Odorizzi, he also had a two-hit game against the Yankees, going 8 for 31 (.258) with 3 doubles overall.

"I understand that 16 days in the big leagues is only the tip of the iceberg, but it definitely gave me confidence, to have a little success," he said.

Still, the Sox, having endured the growing pains of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts last season, opted for the safer route, signing Sandoval instead of taking a chance with another rookie. Cecchini remains undeterred. He played in his third game this spring Monday in Jupiter, and went hitless in three at-bats. He recognizes his path may be blocked in Boston, but in this game you never know what might happen. Shoot, your dad could wind up coaching a team in Japan.