Wednesday, Feb. 26 is a day Jonathan de Marte won’t soon forget.

The 2011 Lakeland High School graduate, a right-handed pitcher, signed a minor-league contract with the Chicago Cubs’ organization at their spring-training offices in Mesa, Ariz.

The two-time New York Gatorade Player of the Year, won while pitching for the Hornets, has been a battler, overcoming injuries, and playing around the world in pursuit of his dream: to be a Major League Baseball player.

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“It was very difficult to hold back a smile,” de Marte said about his signing. “I knew about it on Friday (Feb. 21), that was five days before. But I had to wait for all my physicals, MRIs, X-Rays that they have you do for your first time. Blood work, EKG, all that. So, I had to keep quiet for five days, just waiting for the medical stuff to pass.”

For de Marte, it was an exciting but anxious time.

“I have been healthy for four or five years now, but obviously, knowing my history, there’s always a little bit of worry,” de Marte said. Signing the contract “was a huge weight lifted off my shoulder, and it was also one of the most self-fulfilling moments of my life. I was beyond happy. The excitement that I felt, my hand wasn’t literally shaking, but it was almost like that adrenaline feeling you get running in from the bullpen, ready to pitch. That’s how excited I felt.”
Well-Traveled Road

After high school, de Marte pitched for the University of Richmond, where he graduated in 2015, then completed graduate school, while still pitching for the Spiders, in 2017.

After that, de Marte pitched for the Normal (Illinois) Cornbelters of the Frontier League; the York (Pennsylvania) Revolution of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball; Les Capitales of de Quebec, of the Canadian-American Association of the Professional Baseball League; the Israeli baseball team, which will compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (in which de Marte still expects to compete); and the Pearth Heat Baseball Club, of the Australian Baseball League.

While de Marte is thrilled signing with the Cubs’ organization, he realizes that if he wants to fulfill his ultimate dream of playing with the organization’s Major-League club, he has to continue to with his tenacious work ethic.

“Now, once everything starts, nothing really changes,” de Marte said. “It’s just business as per usual, doing everything you can on a given day to do your best, stay healthy, and continue to improve.”

Luckily for de Marte, he has the experience of playing with people who have made it to “the show.”

“I am really excited with all these high-level guys around me,” de Marte. “In independent ball, I played with plenty of former big leaguers. Same thing with Team Israel, of course, you play with all these really, high-level guys. But now, here, you have Major Leaguers all around you every day, AAA guys, AA guys, guys that have way more experience than me. So, for me to be able to learn from them, and just be a part of that, that will push me even harder.”
de Marte isn’t sure where he will land in the Cubs’ organization.

“I was told I would most likely be starting in High A, Myrtle Beach, or if I get lucky, I do well, depending how other guys do, there’s a chance for AA,” de Marte said. “And of course, they didn’t say this, but I know the way that the minor-league system works, me as a free-agent signing out independent ball, I’m sure if there is an overflow of guys, I could be someone whose pushed into extended spring training. Hopefully, that’s not the case, and I can make a roster after camp with a team, but we’ll see. I just have to do the best I can, over this next month, and try to earn a spot somewhere.”

A Family Affair

Jonathan isn’t the only de Marte involved in baseball. His brother, Matthew, a 2014 Lakeland graduate, is in the Los Angeles Angels’ scouting department.

Coincidentally, Matthew grew up a Cubs’ fan.

“He was the biggest Cubs’ fan I have ever seen growing up,” Jonathan de Marte said.

After managing the Cubs’ for five years, including to the historic 2016 World Series title, Joe Maddon became the Angels’ manager this offseason.

“And now, Joe Maddon is one of his bosses. He knows Joe Maddon really well,” said Jonathan de Marte, who is living with his brother in Arizona, where the Angels also train, during Spring Training.

That led to what Jonathan described as “another cool, fulfilling moment.”

“So, I went to go pick him up from work and there was Joe Maddon, walking out with him to his car and Joe Maddon congratulated me and said good luck and everything,” Jonathan de Marte said. “So, it was like, wow, this guy was the manager for the Cubs last year, and now he is one of my brother’s bosses, and he is congratulating me for going and joining the Cubs. So yeah, some really, really, neat moments, over this last week.”