On the winding road of the minor league journey, Jonathan India has found his way back home.
While Daytona Beach, the Florida State League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, is about a four hour drive from where he played high school ball, the trips to Jupiter to play the Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals will have to do for now.
The Reds drafted India with the fifth overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft and MLB pipeline has him listed as their No. 4 prospect. In the midsts of the JT Realmuto trade sweepstakes, the Reds made India a key part of their proposed trade package before the Marlins decided to trade their star catcher to the Philadelphia Phillies.
India, who grew up a New York Met fan, was well aware of the trade rumors thanks the Twitter, but was told by the Reds’ management not to worry about it and so he did.
“You never know what can happen in this sport,” India said. “It’s a business. One day you can be Red, one day you can be a Marlin. It almost happened to me. I try to honestly not think about that stuff and just play the game. There’s no point in digging into that and worrying about it because it just puts more pressure on yourself. Why think about that when you have the game right in front of you?”
India played high school ball American Heritage-Delray. There’s a lot of players currently in the minor leagues or big leagues who were once high schoolers in South Florida. In fact, in the same draft where the Reds took India with the fifth overall pick, the Boston Red Sox drafted third baseman Triston Casas — who played third base at the American Heritage School in Plantation — with the 26th pick.
“There are plenty of kids who I played against and have played with who have a shot of making it,” India said.
While Casas was taken out of high school India was drafted out of the University of Florida. You may be able to spot as many Gators in a baseball field somewhere in America as you would on Alligator Alley. India’s teammate at Single-A Daytona, catcher Mark Kolozsvary, was also a teammate with him at UF.
“Going through there for three years taught me how to be not only a baseball player but also a professional on and off the field,” India said. “It helped me a lot going into minor league ball.”
The Gators have been in the College World Series in each of India’s three seasons. The ecstasy of championship triumph was sandwiched in-between the agony of defeat. India called winning the 2017 College World Series, “A dream come true for me and one of the best feelings I ever had.”
“I think it’s the best baseball experience a kid can dream of,” India said. “Like they say, It’s the greatest show on dirt. That’s their slogan.”
After the 2018 College World Series, India quickly went from the greatest show on dirt to just a show on dirt. His professional career began just as soon as his collegiate career ended, split among Tennessee, Montana and Ohio. While he was a Mustang for three days, he found the city of Billings, MT to be quite pleasant.
“It didn’t feel like we were at Montana,” India said. “I actually felt Montana was a beautiful state, with all the mountains and everything. Being from Florida, you don’t see mountains. I enjoyed it there. It was fun.”
Life as minor leaguer is like a traveling road show. Nevertheless, India considers this endeavor, “a fun experience.” The most grueling part of it is the long bus rides. While it may be a bit mitigated in the Single-A Advanced Florida State League, it was still a nearly three hour drive from Daytona to Jupiter. If they’re not catching up on sleep, the team is at least trying to have some fun on the bus.
“We’ve had some funny bus rides,” India said, “singing karaoke, just messing around as a team, hanging out but nothing too crazy.”
India may have not ended up as a Marlin but at least he will get to play in Florida and learn under a former Marlins in Daytona hitting coach and 2003 World Series champion Lenny Harris.
Tony Capobianco is the lead photographer for FiveReasonsSports.com