Memory of Dad gives Navarro perspective

Memory of Dad gives Navarro perspective

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Efren Navarro is fighting for his baseball future this spring, which doesn't make it any different from any other spring since the Angels drafted him in the 50th and final round eight years ago. Maybe the uncertainty surrounding Josh Hamilton's situation creates a role for the left-handed-hitting outfielder and first baseman; maybe it doesn't.

In the end, it won't matter all that much. Navarro is at ease with his situation, whatever that might be. He began to see the world differently on Feb. 20, the day he lost his mentor, best friend and father, Efren Sr., after a long bout with cancer and a recent stroke.

"Watching him go through so much, I feel like it's given me an edge," Navarro said. "I can compete. If he was able to go through six years with all that treatment, and having a stroke, I can easily put on my pants and play some ball and work hard every day. My dad has shown me a lot. I'm a lot more calm now, and I'm just excited and ready to go. I'm not saying I'm going to dedicate this year to him, but for the rest of my life, I want to honor the way he lived."

Efren Sr. instilled work ethic, humility and an unrelenting belief in his son, who overcame the odds of being the 1,450th overall pick to finally put his imprint on the Major Leagues last season. Efren Sr. spent three decades replacing anchor spikes for Union Pacific Railroad until B-cell lymphoma forced him in and out of chemotherapy for the last six years, an unfortunate circumstance that never impacted his resolve and exuberance.

"Man," Navarro said, "what a fighter."

Efren Sr. needed a bone-marrow transplant, but he was never in remission long enough to get one. Often times he'd fall in the middle of the night, but he never let his son pick him up off the floor. He suffered a stroke in early February, which triggered the cardiac arrest that ultimately took his life at the age of 68.

"He never let cancer beat him," Navarro said, proudly.

Navarro, the youngest of four children and the only boy, had a flight to Mexico scheduled for Dec. 1. He was going to play winter ball again, but his father was set to undergo his most intense round of chemotherapy yet, so he stayed back. For an entire month, from early January to early February, Efren Sr. remained in the hospital. And for days at a time, his son slept by his side.

They talked about their growing family. And they talked about how far they've come, together, in this crazy game.

"He told me I was his champion," Navarro said, his eyes glistening. "He was telling the doctors, 'Hey, I hope you're an Angels fan, because my son here, he's a champion.'"

Navarro reported to Angels Spring Training only four days after his father died because it's what Efren Sr. would've wanted; what he continually urged him to do.

"It's still an open wound," Navarro said. "It's still in there. But knowing my dad, he wants me here."

Navarro feels some closure, though, because cancer didn't keep them from enjoying their time together and because Efren Sr. got to see his son live out his dream. He sat in the stands when Navarro hit his first home run off Justin Verlander on July 26, watched batting practice on the field before a Freeway Series game in August and soaked in every moment of a 2014 season that saw Navarro play in 64 games.

Javier Gonzalez, Navarro's brother-in-law, still gets choked up thinking about that.

"Him and Junior had a special, special relationship," Gonzalez said. "There is nobody - nobody, nobody - who wore that Angels hat with more pride than my father-in-law. He wore that Angels hat, that Angels jacket, with so much pride because of what Junior was doing."

Gonzalez and his wife, Marivel, moved into Efren Sr.'s house in Lynwood, Calif., so Navarro's widowed mother wouldn't be alone. If Navarro makes the big league club, he'll sleep in the back house to console her, too.

In the meantime, he'll continue to fight.

"This was a goal of his and mine as a kid - to play in the big leagues and compete for the job," Navarro said of he and his father. "He left me in a good path, as a father. He was a faithful man and faithful to the Lord. It was good to see where he came from and how he left. That's put me at ease with everything. That's been a blessing."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.