All Jean Segura can do when he thinks about Juan Diego is smile.
Mere mention of his 2-year-old son serves as an instant pick-me-up for the shortstop.
Doesn’t matter if the Mariners lost, or if he went 0 for 4 with an error – one look at his boy’s face will melt the angst away.
That’s called happiness, and it’s a feeling Segura experiences daily.
It’s also a feeling he thought he might never experience again.
“I almost quit baseball,” said the 27-year-old who recently signed a five-year, $70 million extension. “I was dead out there on the field.”
Flash back to July 2014, when Segura was playing for Milwaukee. The Brewers had just lost a game to the Cardinals when Segura’s mother called a teammate’s wife with some news. The wife got a hold of her husband, who then got word to Jean.
Segura’s 9-month-old son, Janniel, had died in the Dominican Republic.
Segura preferred not to go into the specifics of what happened, revealing only that Janniel had grown ill a few days before passing. But Jean Segura was placed on the bereavement list immediately and flew home to bury his son.
The next 18 months were the darkest of his life, as balls and strikes seemed pointless at times.
“I would just always think about him,” said Segura, whose ankle sprain currently has him on the disabled list. “I wasn’t talking. I didn’t have fun playing this game.”
His numbers reflected that.
After an All-Star season in 2013, when he batted .294 and stole 44 bases, Segura’s production plunged. He hit .247 in 2014, .257 in 2015 and never managed more than six home runs.
Amplifying the frustration was that he was working just as hard as before, only to find improvement eluding him. That’s what made him consider stepping away from baseball altogether.
Myriad factors prevented him from doing that, though. For one, he had gotten married to his wife, Kellen (who was not Janniel’s mother). Then Kellen gave birth to Juan Diego after the 2014 season.
But there was another person who tapped into Segura in a way nobody else could at the time. His name? Robinson Cano.
Segura had long admired the fellow Dominican and reached out to him two years ago at the height of his struggles. The Mariners second baseman remembers conversations in which Segura was in tears.
Nothing seemed to be working. He was a mess personally and professionally. So Cano comforted him and imparted some simple wisdom: Trust yourself.
“He gave me some advice about my ability and how talented I really was,” said Segura, who has spent the past two offseasons working out with Cano. “After that, I just started playing baseball instead of trying to prove I belonged in the big leagues every time I was at the plate. It was just one step at a time.”
What ensued was a career year in Arizona, where Segura hit .319, smashed 20 home runs and collected a National League-leading 203 hits. This year, he is hitting .341 with the Mariners, which is probably why Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto extended him through 2022 at the beginning of the month.
Sullen during those last two seasons in Milwaukee, Segura is now among the most effusive players in the clubhouse. As he said last week, “I’m in the best place of my life.”
None of this erases the pain of Janniel’s death, of course. There are still days where he will creep into Segura’s thoughts.
But with Kellen and Juan Diego (who is already hitting, by the way) – plus another boy on the way – Jean’s glee significantly outweighs his grief.
“He’s always talking about his family,” Cano said.
So what does Father’s Day mean to Jean Segura? That was the question posed to him last week before he went on the road with the M’s. He didn’t hesitate with his response.
“Now that I have my kid, it’s a special moment for me and my family,” said Segura, whose Instagram account is inundated with Juan Diego photos. “Because I’m a good daddy.”
His greatest achievement to date.