When you observe James Skelton of the New Britain Bees, you soon discover that on days he isn’t catching (or playing one of three outfield or three infield positions), he sits in the dugout and really watches the game. Similar to other players who have paid their dues in order to play the game they love, Skelton is both humble and grateful to be on the Bees’ roster.
Skelton is originally from West Covina, CA, just about 25 miles from Los Angeles. Now 30 years old, he began to love baseball at the age of four. “My dad would play catch with me, throw balls at me”, Skelton said. When it came to playing his first position, catching caught his eye.
“I started catching when I was eight”, Skelton said. “The kid that was on my team threw a little hard for the guys we had and coach asked if anyone could catch and I raised my hand.”
Even as a young child Skelton had the mentality to go into something willing to take risks, exert all of his energy, and never say no to an opportunity. Skelton remarked that he definitely sees the ball field as the place where most of the action occurs.
At the beginning of his high school career, Skelton played more middle infield than catching. “My freshman year I started out at short, did a little bit of catching and pitched”, Skelton said. (During)“my sophomore year I was suppose to catch, but I ended up being the second baseman.” Throughout his junior and senior year, Skelton would flip- flop between shortstop and pitching, only catching when scouts were in attendance.
Although Skelton didn’t catch much during high school, he caught the eye of one scout for the Detroit Tigers. The team drafted him in the fourteenth round. When I asked Skelton if being drafted that low almost put a chip on his shoulder, he stated that he viewed the situation as just the opposite. For him, it was a joy. “It was actually exciting” Skelton said. “My high school coach told me I would be a draft and follow, which is normally a guy getting drafted on the second day, so when I got selected in the fourteenth round, it surprised everybody.”
Being included in any sports draft is exciting, but Skelton saw this as an opportunity to achieve a lifelong dream. In his words, “It was an opportunity to start what I wanted to do ever since I was little”, to play professional baseball, and that’s why I did it.”
While Skelton has played for five organizations (the Tigers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Washington Nationals), he’s always stuck with the same approach, no matter the adversity. “When it comes to being patient and grinding every at bat, something I’ve done my whole life, it’s hard to get out of that mentality.”
Skelton has continued to be the super-utility option for any major league club, just as he was during his amateur career. As a utility player, he found covering second base has been the easiest position while catching has been the most difficult. “Second base (was the easiest) because I grew up playing (the) infield”, Skelton remarked. “I was an infielder all throughout high school, never playing the outfield until my sixth year of pro ball.” (The)“hardest part about being the utility guy is catching or infield to catching”, Skelton said. “Your throwing mechanics are different at every position and to go back to catching, which is short and compacted, that’s the hardest to get back to.”
When asked about wanting to play numerous positions, Skelton noted that he had a little bit of luck with the situation. “I got lucky”, Skelton said. (The) “reason why I’ve become more of a utility guy now is because of the scout for the D-backs.” That’s when the scout saw Skelton (playing for West Oahu, Hawaii Canefires) go in for the injured second baseman, back in 2008.
Skelton, who always took ground balls before the game, was asked by Mike Guerrero, then manager for the Canefires and current manager for Tigers del Licey, if he could play second. “I told him I could”, Skelton said. “It was three or four innings, and because of that, I got big- league rule fived, showing I can play multiple positions, at least infield”.
Although Skelton was selected in the rule five draft and didn’t make the club, he doesn’t have any hard feelings. “Having a shot to make the big league club was exciting”, Skelton mentioned. “For somebody to give me the opportunity to be their twenty- fifth man on the roster, is definitely a blessing.”
Skelton has both the spirit and the tenacity to use every bit of his talents needed to be a league player. While things haven’t exactly gone the way Skelton would have liked in the majors, it was obvious from our conversation that he has the character, heart and work ethic to one day reach that goal.
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