ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jarren Duran grew up about 10 miles down Katella Avenue from Angel Stadium. But the Red Sox were his team.
“My dad liked the Angels and the Dodgers and I liked going against my dad in everything and the Red Sox always beat the Angels,” Duran said.
“And I was a big [Dustin] Pedroia fan growing up because I was a small second baseman and I played hard like him.”
Duran made his major league debut in 2021 but this season is the first time he’s played professionally in southern California.
He’s excited about getting a chance to come home during the season.
Even though he can’t actually live at home.
“My room has turned into my niece’s room,” Duran said. “There’s no place for me. I’ll stay in the hotel with the team. That’ll help me stay focused for the games.”
Duran was 8 when he attended his first game at Angel Stadium with his dad, Octavio. He remembers being impressed with the fountain in center field and the fireworks.
“That was the cool thing for me,” he said. “I was just a little guy.”
But Duran also took notice of Angels outfielder Garrett Anderson, a fellow lefty hitter.
“He was a home-run hitter, which I definitely was not,” Duran said. “I liked watching him play but I was still more interested in the fountain.”
Baseball is very much a business, as Duran has since learned. He played well in Triple A last season and earned a chance to start for the Sox in June. Duran was sent back to the minors in August having hit .219 and making a series of unfathomable mistakes in the outfield.
The Red Sox signed Adam Duvall to play center field and optioned Duran back to Triple A when spring training ended.
But Duvall broke his left wrist in April and Duran has hit .330 with 16 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs, and a .917 OPS since. He was back in center field on Monday night, batting fifth.
The Sox have come to count on him.
That makes Duran’s homecoming even better. His family and friends will get to see him on the field playing a key role for a Sox team outperforming preseason expectations.
“We play in front of a ton of people every night. But when I know my friends and family and college friends are there and I’m playing a few minutes away from where I went to high school, it’s so fun,” said Duran, who was 0 for 3 in a 2-1 loss.
Duran had to come up with 20 tickets for his family during the three days the Sox were in San Diego and it will be at least that many in Anaheim.
The players don’t get freebies, either.
“I try to get as many tickets as I can,” Duran said. “Some of my college buddies are going to all nine games on this trip. They’ll be in center field yelling at me. I love it.”
Duran, 26, is one of the best stories in baseball this season given how far he has come.
He looked overmatched and immature last year, a player who didn’t seem to even understand the basics of the game. The fan and media attention that comes with playing in Boston seemed overwhelming.
Some of that wasn’t his fault. The Sox could do a better job of preparing prospects for what’s to come in a big market, something the Yankees put an emphasis on.
But Duran also was stubborn at times. He looked every bit like a player whose best chance at success would have to be with another team.
That was certainly the opinion here. That the Sox stocked up on outfielders showed they weren’t counting on Duran, either.
He has proved everybody wrong so far. Duran improved as a player and changed his approach to the game, opening up to teammates and being more willing to ask for help.
That he was selected to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic also was a boost, even though he had only five at-bats. Representing his father’s homeland became a source of pride.
Now he’s back in southern California and Monday night played in the same ballpark where he saw his first major league game.
Duran was still on the field, in full uniform, 45 minutes after the game ended, spending time with everybody who came to see him play. One after another, they all got a big hug.
“It’s pretty cool that I get to play back home,” Duran said.
Sure is. Good for him.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.