PORTLAND – Garin Cecchini knows baseball well, a true student of the sport.
Maybe it’s because he took in his first game when he was 4 days’ old.
Or the lessons could have begun earlier, while he was still in the womb and his mom was coaching first base.
The Red Sox promoted Cecchini, 22, to the Portland Sea Dogs last week. He joins a long list of touted prospects who have played at Hadlock Field. Baseball America ranked him Boston’s No 7 prospect before this season.
The buzz over Cecchini, a third baseman, may not match that of top prospect Xander Bogaerts, who was just promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, but Boston is high on Cecchini. A fourth-round draft pick out of high school in 2010, Cecchini received a $1.3 million signing bonus. He comes to Portland after batting .350 in Salem, with a 1.016 OPS (combined on-base and slugging averages).
“Reports on him have been terrific,” Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said. “Coaches in Salem rave about him.
“He has a hitter’s presence. It looks like he has a real good understanding of the strike zone.”
Cecchini better have an understanding of the strike zone and the game itself. His father, Glenn, is a renowned high school coach in Lake Charles, La. And Glenn’s wife, Raissa, was his assistant coach for several years. Then there is younger brother Gavin, a Mets first-round draft pick in 2012 (receiving a $2.3 million signing bonus).
“It would be tough not to play baseball and be in the Cecchini family,” Garin said, his smile coming easy and often.
The Cecchini’s definitely are dedicated to baseball, which is why Raissa was coaching first base for Barbe High School in Lake Charles on April 20, 1991.
“I went into labor that night,” Raissa said. And Garin was born.
Four days later, Barbe High was playing its next game. Garin was with his grandmother in the stands. Raissa was back in uniform, but stayed in the dugout.
“I had a C-section,” she said.
Raissa Cecchini, a native of Louisiana, played baseball in her youth. When her high school mandated she play girls’ softball instead of boys’ baseball, she opted to compete in rodeo. She also played basketball and went on to play for the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette).
Glenn Cecchini, a Californian, was also in Lafayette, to play baseball. After he met Raissa, he would only go back to California to visit. They settled in Lake Charles. He became Barbe High’s baseball coach in 1986 and talked Raissa into being his assistant.
She coached until her sons’ baseball careers took off in youth leagues. She wanted to be with her boys.
Garin starred at Barbe and received a scholarship to Louisiana State before his senior year. The only factor that could keep him from LSU was being a first-round pick in the major league draft, with a sizable bonus.
But Cecchini did not play baseball his senior year, suffering a torn tendon in his right knee. He was still a draft prospect, but his value took a hit.
“I got drafted in the fourth round. I didn’t think I was going to sign,” Cecchini said. “But the Red Sox took a gamble on me.”
Not only did Boston offer big money, the team invited Cecchini on a “recruiting visit” to Fenway Park.
“They threw out the red carpet for me,” he said. “Just going to Fenway, thinking of all the players stepping in the left-handed batters’ box. I thought this is where I want to play. This is where I want to be called a professional baseball player.”
Cecchini suffered a broken wrist in his first season in 2011, when he was hit by a pitch. He finally came on in 2012 in Greenville and broke out with Salem early this season. Cecchini is a patient hitter, and a solid hitter to all fields.
“I’ve never seen anyone put the barrel on the ball like he does,” said Sea Dogs reliever Mike McCarthy, who was in Salem with Cecchini.
But McCarthy, 25, said there is more to Cecchini.
“He’s a great teammate,” McCarthy said. “He’s younger than me and I still learn from him.”
It is not an accident that Cecchini is a good influence. The Cecchini family may be known for raising baseball players, but they also build character. The ball field is important, but church is the real hallowed ground.
“God is first” Raissa said. “A baseball career is a short time. I want (my sons) to be good Christian men and good fathers.”
That may be why Garin Cecchini is known for spending time visiting hospitals and doing other good deeds wherever he plays. When he signed with the Red Sox, he immediately donated $20,000 to the Jimmy Fund, the Boston charity for cancer research.
Ask Cecchini about his good deeds and he winces.
“You don’t boast about stuff like that,” Cecchini said.
He will allow that he wants to be known as a good baseball player — and much, much more.
“I want to be known as a child of God, being a good person for other people, giving them the respect they deserve,” Cecchini said. “I want to be a good citizen, and I want to be a good teammate.”
As far as being a good ballplayer in the majors, Cecchini is getting closer. He’s impressed in four games with Portland, batting .313 (5 for 16) and making flashy plays at third base.
“It’s another step,” Cecchini said of Double-A ball. “Another challenge to try to master.”
Another prospect with big goals, and that easy smile.
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at [email protected]