As a resident of Cranston, Rhode Island, Giovanni Canales grew up rooting for the Boston Red Sox and especially first baseman David Oritz. On the other side of New York in Bergenfield, New Jersey, Eddie Javier Jr. sided with the New York Yankees and particularly third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Despite their differences, Canales, a right-handed pitcher, and Javier, a shortstop, are tight friends who recently completed their redshirt freshman seasons for the Coppin State baseball team. And they are roommates in Utica, New York, as they spend the summer playing for the Utica Blue Sox of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
“I think my experience here would be a much different experience if he wasn’t here,” Javier said. “That’s my guy, that’s my brother. We spend a lot of time together, and we do everything together like going to Walmart, learning how to cook new things, having someone to talk to after games and knowing that he’s going to tell me the truth and be honest with me because he wants what’s best for me. When he’s on the mound and I’m at short, we’re just building that chemistry for when the season comes. It’s a great thing.”
Added Canales: “We’re really close. It’s just great to have somebody you know so that you can experience this long schedule, the different competition. You’re basically exploring with a friend, and it’s amazing for our chemistry.”
Canales and Javier are not your typical baseball players. In February, they were rated by D1Baseball.com among the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s top five prospects for the 2022 Major League Baseball draft. Canales, the No. 1 high pitcher in Rhode Island and the No. 12 player overall, was ranked No. 2 by D1Baseball.com, while Javier, the No. 7 high school shortstop in New Jersey, was tabbed No. 4.
Sherman Reed, the winningest coach in Eagles baseball history who was the coordinator of the Urban Baseball Camp for the Kansas City Royals in 2008-09, said Canales and Javier have a certain allure to them.
“If you watch Eddie and Gio play catch, they play catch and walk a certain way,” said Reed, who has 122 victories in 11 years. “When we rate our guys and we look at the guys that we penciled in as possible pro prospects, those two guys fit the bill real well.”
Becoming the first players from Coppin State to hear their names called in the MLB draft would be the realization of lifelong aspirations for Javier and Canales.
“I think ever since I’ve grown up, every day has been about baseball and not really much of a social life,” Canales said with a laugh. “The only time I had a social life was at school. I’ve been jumping around for baseball. It’s really just a goal that I’ve been working to my whole life. That is my biggest dream, to make it to the major leagues, and I’ve been working every day to get there. Sometimes dreams happen. That would be crazy.”
Canales and Javier did not get much of a break between the end of the Eagles season May 15 and the start of the Blue Sox season June 4. But neither player complained as they viewed the summer as an opportunity to refine their skills.
Javier ranked fifth on Coppin State in batting average (.275) and fourth in both total hits (30) and total doubles (six) and had a .906 fielding percentage, but said he is always looking to improve.
“You never stop learning,” said Javier, whose batting average has slid to .158 (9-for-57) with only five RBIs and one extra-base hit this summer. “So I want to learn the little things like how to play the game better and the intricacies of the game. I want to hone in on those so that when I go back to school, I can be fundamentally sound.”
Todd Cole, an assistant coach in his second full season at Utica, said he does not worry about Javier’s average. He said he is more concerned with Javier Jr. getting full contact on pitches, which he terms “barrels.”
“We’re finding more and more consistency with the barrels,” said Cole, who also worked with Javier on accelerating his throws from shortstop to first base and polishing his footwork. “He’s hit three or four balls to the warning track this year that the defense made really good plays on. The box score says he went 0-for-3, but he barreled three baseballs. So there’s a victory inside of that I am teaching Eddie and that Eddie is starting to understand.”
A right elbow injury limited Canales to five appearances resulting in a 0-2 record and a 7.07 ERA. But he pointed out that he has raised the velocity on his fastball from the low 90s to 94 mph.
“That was huge,” said Canales. “My command has gotten a lot better, my mound [presence] has gotten a lot better. I ran into a little dust-up with an injury, but I’m coming back, and I’m coming back better than ever.”
As raw as Javier and Canales may be, Cole said the pair has added a feistiness to the Blue Sox.
“They both bring a competitiveness and a desire to get better,” he said. “They’ll step out in front to say, ‘Hey, I want to get my extra work in. Coach, I want my extra work.’ And they bring a level of security meaning we know what we’re going to get out of those guys from an effort standpoint. Sometimes you don’t know. But with both of those kids, they’re very consistent with what they want to get out of this, and they put a lot into the team from a competitive standpoint in order to get better and improve and help make our team better.”
Canales and Javier have made a more favorable impression in Utica off the field. Canales introduced Javier to members of the New Hartford Babe Ruth baseball team, who have informally named themselves “Eddie’s Hype House.”
“I told them, ‘You guys got to cheer for him.’ But I didn’t know they were going to cheer the whole game,” Canales said. “Whether he was on the bases or in the dugout, they were cheering for him, which was really cool. I also got some cheers. So they were great, they were amazing. They made the stadium more electric, and I bet that filled Eddie with some adrenaline, too.”
Javier returned the favor July 2 when he and Blue Sox assistant general manager Juliano Macera attended a New Hartford game.
“Their coach let me coach first base for a couple innings,” Javier said. “It was a great game, and they’re great guys.”
Canales and Javier said they appreciate the attention from fans and baseball experts, especially as they seek to reach their objective of playing professionally. The consideration from D1Baseball.com is particularly gratifying.
“It’s really huge because it kind of shows your hard work and how people view you,” Canales said. “It’s really nice to have that attention on you. At the same time, it’s like, ‘I’m in this, and I have to prove it because all eyes are going to be on me.’ Every time you step onto the field, you have to show that you’re worthy to be that kind of prospect.”