RIP to Angel Echevarria, an outfielder and first baseman for 7 seasons in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He died on February 7 at the age of 48. According to reports from CTPost.com and CT News 12, Echevarria had been feeling ill with a stomach virus for a few days. He then fell and hit his head in his Bridgeport home. He was taken to Bridgeport Hospital, where he died on Friday. Echevarria played for the Colorado Rockies (1996-2000), Milwaukee Brewers (2000-02) and Chicago Cubs (2002).
At the time of his death, Echevarria operated Simply Baseball, at The Factory in Norwalk. He met his girlfriend of five years, Jazmine Cox, when they both worked there. “He was caring and generous and loved working with children,” she cold the Post. “He was always doing free clinics. He loved Bridgeport. Everyone will say he had a kind word for everyone. He was so giving, so generous, so full of life. He always wanted to give back. He would always say he grew up here, that Bridgeport made him who he was, and he was not going to leave.”
Angel Echevarria was born in Bridgeport on May 25, 1971. He grew up playing baseball with his siblings and cousins, and he decided to make the MLB his career goal in the eighth grade. He attended Bassick High School and played on the football team as a running back as well as the baseball team. He also played on the school’s state champion basketball team and could have had a college career in that sport, too. But when it came to baseball, he was voted Metropolitan Bridgeport Athletic Conference’s MVP for two straight years and hit .573 in his senior year. He was a scholar athlete and ranked 12th in a class of 170.
Echevarria’s original plan was to play baseball at Seton Hall, but he ended up at Rutgers University instead, much to the delight of the Scarlet Knights and their fans. He hit .322 in his freshman year and led the team with 8 home runs, leading the team into the NCAA Regional Tournament in 1990. The Knights fell just shy of the College World Series.
“We thought he was going to be good but we didn’t expect him to be this good this quick,” said head coach Fred Hill.
Echevarria also honed his skills in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League in the summer. The ACBL graduated ballplayers like Frank Viola, Craig Biggio and Jamie Moyer, and Echevarria liked the competitiveness of the league.
“Every team is like a college all-star team. It’s prestigious,” he said.
By the time of his junior year, Echevarria was the school’s all-time leader in home runs and RBIs. He was drafted by the Rockies in the 17th Round of the 1992 Amateur Draft. He started his professional career with the Bend Rockies of the Northwest League that summer, and he spent most of the next four years working his way up the Rockies’ organizational ladder.
After a slow start with Bend in ’92, Echevarria started to show his stuff in the following season with the Central Valley Rockies, a high A-Ball team in the California League. He hit .271 there, but his power didn’t become really evident until 1995, when he blasted 21 homers and drove in 100 runs for the New Haven Ravens, a AA team in the Eastern League. Echevarria hit .300 and slugged .510 for the Ravens and earned a promotion to AAA in 1996.
For the next three seasons, he terrorized pitchers at AAA Colorado Springs, hitting well over .300 and hitting double-digit marks in homers. Each season, from 1996 through 1998, he would go up to the major leagues for a few weeks at a time, whenever one of the Rockies’ outfielders was hurt. His first stint came in 1996, and he hit 6-for-21 in 26 games, appearing mainly as a pinch hitter. He knew his first stay in Colorado would be a short one, as he was sent back to AAA as soon as Larry Walker was activated from the disabled list.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” he said of his first demotion. But I didn’t get my head down. I just go out there and handle my business… I’ll keep working hard and let everything fall into place.”
Everything did fall into place in 1998. After another excellent year in Colorado Springs (.326 average, 15 homers), Echevarria was recalled by Colorado and hit .379 in 19 games. He hit his first major league homer and drove in 4 runs on August 25, leading the Rockies to an 11-6 win over the Brewers.
Part of the reason that Echevarria struggled to get playing time in Colorado was that the Rockies starting lineup was stacked with stars. The outfielders on the team during his time there included Larry Walker, Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Quinton McCracken and Darryl Hamilton. Echevarria also played first base, but Todd Helton had that position locked down. As well as Echevarria played in the minors, he couldn’t get a shot unless one of the starters got hurt or one of the reserves struggled.
In spite of that, Echevarria spent all of 1999 with the Rockies and reached career highs in virtually every offensive statistic, including homers (11), RBIs (35) and runs scored (28). He played in 102 games and slashed .293/.360/.503, with an OPS of 1.041. As a pinch-hitter, he hit .319 with 4 home runs and 14 RBIs. With runners in scoring position, he was a .359 hitter, and when there were two outs, that batting average jumped to .455. It was a remarkably clutch season for the 28-year-old.
The Rockies, though, signed a couple other outfielders in the offseason, and Echevarria was the odd man out in spring training 2000. He was sent back to Colorado Springs and was used as a pinch-hitter when he was recalled in late June. He managed 1 hit in 9 at-bats before the Rockies placed him on waivers. The Brewers then claimed Echevarria; while he hit a low .214 for Milwaukee for the rest of the season, he rebounded in 2001. He hit 5 homers and batted .256 in 75 games, 42 of which came as a pinch hitter. He was granted free agency at the end of the season.
The Cubs signed Echevarria to a minor-league deal for 2002. He performed well in Iowa, working hard for manager Bruce Kimm. When he was called up to join the Cubs, he was later joined by Kimm, who replaced the fired Don Baylor. Whether it was that familiarity or the fact that the ’02 Cubs just didn’t have a lot of options, Echevarria was given chances to start at first base and both corner outfield spots, and he hit .306 in 50 games.
In parts of 7 seasons, Echevarria slashed .280/.343/.455, with 152 hits that included 32 doubles and 21 home runs. He drove in 90 runs and scored 70 times. As a pinch hitter, he never reached the heights of his 1999 season but had 40 hits for a lifetime .248 average, with 6 home runs.
Echevarria was given the chance to sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League. He spent two successful seasons with the Fighters, crushing 31 homers in 2003 while hitting .275. He hit 16 doubles and 16 homers the following year, though he hit just .258. He returned to the U.S. in 2005 to join the Cubs in spring training. After a brief stay in AAA Iowa, he finished the season with Monclova of the Mexican League and ended his career after playing in 2006 for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League.
Echevarria spent two years working as a hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers before founding Simply Baseball in 2013. Echevarria said that his goal with Simply Baseball was to not only teach his students about the finer points of baseball, but also to give them life lessons for their future, such as respect for coaches and peers, the ability to work cooperatively with others, and the confidence to pursue their goals.
“It’s about more than just baseball,” he said. “That’s the vehicle, but our goal is to instill a sense of optimism in children and inspire them to develop positive self-worth.”