Jean Segura’s baseball career started in a pasture. Raised in poverty, the Brewers shortstop went all in on trying to realize his dream of playing in the big leagues.
As the first player in the major leagues from his hometown of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic, Segura certainly had a humble upbringing. He grew up in a small, four-room house with a tin roof that leaked. The place, which belonged to Segura’s maternal grandmother, housed as many as 10 people at a time.
"I don’t feel embarrassed, you know, to not have like a big house," Segura said. "I feel pretty good. You know I feel it makes you. I grow up in this thing and look at where I at right now."
Out back, Segura’s grandmother supported her family by making and selling candy. She’d spend most of her day grating the cocoa for the candy.
"When he was done working from practicing, I would tell him, ‘Come here and help me stir the candy,’" Segura’s maternal grandmother said. "He would stir it for me. I would give him his food first and then he would stir the candy."
Segura’s father played professionally in the Dominican Republic in the 1980s and passed the love of the game down to his son. He would accompany his mother on trips to go watch his father play and knew he wanted to become a baseball player.
"He would throw the ball everywhere, he would slide headfirst into the base, and when a person has that quality as a child, of sliding into bases, imagine him now grown up when he knows what he’s doing," Segura’s father said. "That’s how Jean started playing baseball."
In order to play baseball in a poor community, Segura needed to come up with something to use as a ball and a bat. He didn’t have the luxury of traditional equipment. String and socks made the ball, while someone would have to go and find a stick of wood thick enough to be used for a bat.
"We don’t have no glove or anything, you just play with that ball," Segura said.
Segura’s focus turned squarely to baseball when he quit school at about the same time American kids are in middle school or junior high school.
"I didn’t have the time to go to the school and after that to the gym," Segura said.
He began to workout with his uncle, Oscar Antonio Encarnacion, an accomplished sprinter in the Dominican Republic. Segura returned to his home country to work out with his uncle this past offseason in an effort to prevent the fatigue he suffered through late last season during his struggles.
Segura credits his uncle for helping him develop the speed he showcases today.
"Jean Segura at 13 years old was something funny," Encarnacion said. "The people said to me I was wasting my time with Jean Segura. I (asked), ‘Why?’ Because he won’t get signed. He won’t make it to the major leagues.’ I said to that person, ‘don’t look at his size, look at his heart.’"
Segura was 16 when he signed his first professional contract with the Los Angeles Angels. All of the money went back to his family to improve their home.
"I thought my son would say, ‘I’m going to buy a car, I’m going to buy tennis shoes, I’m going to buy jeans,’" said Segura’s mother. "I thought that, but he didn’t. I gave him his check because I had to sign everything, and he said that was for us, that he didn’t want any of it."
"That’s not what all athletes do," Segura’s father said. "A child of 16 years old tells his mom and dad, ‘This bonus is yours. Do what you can do, with what’s left over, fix the house, fix everything, give to those you owe.’ I wasn’t working. I have always said one thing — God sees it. That’s why God will always watch over Jean Carlos because he’s a good son."
Segura was 18 when he first came to the United States. He didn’t speak any English and was alone in a foreign country. When he broke his leg in 2008, Segura would call his mother every half hour, crying into the phone.
He eventually recovered from the injury and was asked to shift from second base to shortstop by the Angels in 2010.
Segura’s life changed forever over a week’s stretch in 2012. Playing in Double-A at the time, Segura was pulled from a game and had no idea why. He never thought it was because he was heading to the big leagues with the Angels.
"When I called my mom she was crying because she was happy, and my dad, all my family members, you know, they was (completely) happy and laughing," Segura said. "They all felt pretty good."
Three days after making his big-league debut, Segura was traded to the Brewers as the centerpiece of the Zack Greinke trade. After Segura spent a short time back in the minor leagues, Milwaukee committed to Segura as its shortstop of the future.
He rewarded the Brewers for their faith by making the National League All-Star team in his first full season in the big leagues. Segura’s mother and uncle were able to attend the All-Star Game and then came up to Milwaukee for a visit, as well.
"Wow, I really am in the All-Star Game?" Segura said of his reaction to the news. "For me it was one of the best moments in my career so far. I just don’t want to make one. I just want to continue to make one, two, three more or five.
"I just want to continue to be good … continue to play good, play hard that’s all you can control."
Eventually the Brewers are going to lock up their shortstop to a contract extension. Much like when he first signed, Segura plans on giving back to where he came from.
"In my mind I always think do that," Segura said. "Maybe I’ll get my big contract to help the little kids."