The group text messages are completely honest, and sometimes playfully brutal.
For Nolan and Jonah Arenado, cousin Josh Fuentes and longtime friend Trayce Thompson, success is gained through that honesty and their trust in each other.
The text messages include videos, observations and suggestions on just about everything – swing analysis, fielding tips, how to approach different types of pitchers.
And the guys can take what they dish too. It makes them better and helped elevate their individual games to new heights last season.
“We’re all family, we’re brothers, ” said Jonah Arenado, a first and third baseman with the Class-A San Jose Giants. “Josh has no problem getting on me and vice versa. Trayce has absolutely no problem at all. But these guys fuel me. It helps me to get better.”
The Arenado brothers attended El Toro High. Fuentes went to Trabuco Hills, Thompson attended Santa Margarita. They are four players, all from the same area, working together to realize a dream.
More importantly, though, the four know they wouldn’t be where they are now without the support of family, friends, good coaches and trainers. For those reasons, the students have now become the teachers.
Adding recent World Series champion Kyle Hendricks (Capistrano Valley) into the mix, the five professionals taught kids ages 6-13 the basics of fielding, hitting and pitching at the Arenado Baseball Camp, held Dec. 10 at Lake Forest Sports Park.
“We’re trying to leave somewhat of a legacy, ” said Fuentes, currently with the Class-A Modesto Nuts. “You work hard on the field and off the field and you give back with these camps. Hopefully one day, one of them can fulfill their dream.”
IT STARTED WITH WIFFLE BALL
Nolan and Jonah’s dad, Fernando, gets credit for instilling the love and hard work that goes into making it as a pro baseball player.
“He pushed us to play baseball, but he didn’t force us to play, ” said Nolan Arenado, a two-time All-Star third baseman with the Colorado Rockies. “It was our choice and he made sure we had good coaches, trainers, we did lessons and we did all those things. He made sure we were prepared and he pushed us in the right direction. We just fell in love with the game.”
Fuentes said the family’s Cuban heritage had a lot to do with it too.
“It’s just in our blood, ” he said. “We get a ball and a glove and we’re just playing catch and we loved it.”
That’s not to say it was baseball or bust. The siblings and cousins tried multiple sports, including soccer and basketball, but their direction changed with the introduction of a childhood pastime with which the family still competitively participates.
Wiffle ball, with its smaller field and tricky movement, is the creditor to the boys’ attributes on the field.
The family started playing around the time Nolan was 8. Thompson was introduced to the family at 11 years old, after his family moved to Ladera Ranch from Portland, Ore. He and Nolan met on a travel ball team at age 13 and their bond immediately formed over deep discussions about major league players.
“We were always talking about players, ” Nolan Arenado said. “We loved talking about how good they were and what shoes that guy was wearing. We’re still like that to this day.”
Thompson soon found out how seriously the family took wiffle ball. Over time, many other friends found out how competitive the Arenados were.
“We bring friends in, they don’t get it, ” Jonah Arenado said. “They don’t know why we take it so seriously.”
“I honestly think that’s why (Nolan) has so many Gold Gloves, ” Thompson added. “You see some of the plays, being able to catch a wiffle ball and throw to first base, it’s tough.”
During the offseason, the question on everyone’s mind back home is when the next Wiffle ball game is going to take place. Nolan recently had a specialty bat made, and yes, the group still uses a little pine tar.
New rules were added long ago. Nolan, Jonah and Fuentes all have to bat left-handed, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to swing for the fences.
“I’ll work out and think, ‘When’s Wiff?’” Nolan said. “I’ll wait for someone to post it in the group text, or I’m going to send it and it’s just how it goes. It’s who we are and it’s part of our routine.”
ELEVATING THEIR GAME
Each member of the family made great strides during the 2016 season.
Nolan Arenado won his fourth Gold Glove award and his second Silver Slugger award with Colorado. He led the majors in runs batted in (133) and tied for the National League lead in home runs (41), both for the second consecutive season.
Thompson, despite missing the second half of the season due to injury, got more starts with the Dodgers after being traded in the offseason from the Chicago White Sox.
Jonah Arenado was named Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year with San Jose, while Fuentes was promoted to High Single-A Modesto after hitting over .400 in Low-A at the start of the season.
Hendricks started Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, helping the Chicago Cubs break a 108-year championship drought.
“I think it’s … our group and how we’re raised, ” Nolan Arenado said. “Our families have a big part in it and they keep us level-headed.”
The group messages play a big part. Each day, someone is sending swing videos, analysis, suggestions. All are considered and all are taken seriously.
That’s not to say that every suggestion pans out.
“We all have different sides, ” Jonah Arenado said. “Something Nolan says might not work for me, but the way Josh says it, or Trayce, that could work. Having those surroundings, it helps a lot.”
The family has no problem dishing it out on the field either. Fuentes and Jonah Arenado saw each other multiple times in the minors last season and each player acknowledged he roots for his family members, but wants to make sure he performs better.
“When (Jonah) does well, I hate it, it’s the worst, ” Fuentes said. “I remember Jonah hit a home run and I was up the next inning thinking I needed to hit one out, but I came short, I hit a double instead of a home run.”
Said Jonah: “As he rounded first base, I told him he didn’t have the power like me.”
Responded Fuentes: “So now he has that on me and the next time I go up I want to hit one out. Everyone is pushing each other knowing we’re on the same team and that we’re getting better together.”
All of the players recognize they didn’t attain that status on their own. They had help along the way. Now it’s their turn to help the next generation.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity or area to get the coaching and everything I needed to develop, ” Hendricks said. “To come through your roads, come back, and now see these kids where you used to be … we were all at these camps when we were this age.”
The 170 kids attending the Arenado Baseball Camp received fielding, hitting and pitching lessons from some of the game’s best. The players, generous with their time, fielded questions for hours and stayed later to sign autographs.
“I think it’s great that they give back to the community because they were once Little Leaguers and travel ball players, ” Fernando Arenado said. “To come back and do this is something they need to do.”
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