Baseball’s No. 1 draft pick says Minnesota is ‘where God intended me to be’

The Minnesota Twins selected 18-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis as the first overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft June 12.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 195-pound teen played both shortstop and outfield during his high school career at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California. He batted .388 this season.

He received USA Baseball’s gold medal on the Under-18 team at the Pan American Championships last year and was selected as this year’s National High School Coaches Association’s high school senior baseball athlete of the year.

His athletic prowess is obvious but those who know him well say it’s his humility, positive attitude and integrity that shine brightest both on and off the field.

The Minnesota Twins signed the No. 1 overall MLB draft pick shortstop Royce Lewis June 17 at Target Field. Above, Lewis plays for JSerra Catholic High School in a March 31 game in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Bill Alkofer / Orange County Register)

“He’s the most special baseball player I’ve ever seen, ever coached,” said JSerra’s baseball head coach Brett Kay. “And I can say the same about his character. He is a high-energy kid with great charisma, personality, balance, wellness, maturity and respect. Whether he was talking to the president of the school or a teacher or the maintenance man, he treated everyone the same. It is really special to see.”

Kay, who coached Lewis for the last four years and reached his 200th career coaching win in 2016, said Lewis’ quick rise to fame is certainly a “nice feather in the cap” for the program, but more important, the whole school community is elated for him and his family.

“I just hope that we were a conduit for him as a player, as a student athlete and as a young man,” Kay said. “We could say,

‘We built him,’ but that would be over-marketing who he was. Realistically, we were just along for the ride. Everything he did was all Royce Lewis. We are elated and excited for him and we hope he had a great time at JSerra and that he thinks back about us once in a while.”

A solid foundation

Rumor has it that Lewis’ first word was “ball” and that he picked up a bat and started swinging as soon as he could lift it.

“My parents took me to professional games and I would sit and study the game and the players,” he said.

“I also just wanted to move, play and do any action that involved a ball and friends, so baseball was perfect.”

Lewis patterns his own game after former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter who played 20 seasons for the team.

Lewis said he was impressed that Jeter “played the game the right way on and off the field,” a message that was also emphasized at JSerra, where he attended Mass weekly.

“[Mass] is good,” said Lewis, who is not Catholic but has embraced the faith’s virtues and values. “It is a constant reminder of what our purpose is and also the plan and intention God has for each of us.”

He said he feels blessed to have attended JSerra, a school founded in 2003 on “the idea of faith, character and respect for yourself and the community.” The school is named after St. Junipero Serra, who founded Catholic missions in California during the 18th century and devoted his life to promoting faith and education.

“We learned to have respect for ourselves and others,” Lewis said. “Our school has approximately 1,150 students but still has a family environment to it. The administration and students address each other inhallways with smiles and hugs, everyone is always happy to be there learning and growing at a high level.”

At JSerra, Lewis was one of 25 students from his class selected to be members of Caritas Christi, a service group created to serve the JSerra community. Caritas Christi, which means “the love of Christ,” holds students to high standards for academics and virtuous character.

Members of Caritas Christi engage in activities around the school such as serving as ushers at school liturgies and giving tours to prospective students and their families. They also visit the middle schools in the area to represent and promote JSerra.

“It is a commitment of time and courage to live and lead with a servant’s heart,” said Bridget Desmond, who oversees the group.

Royce Lewis poses for a picture Feb. 28 with Norbertine Father Damien Giap, JSerra’s high school chaplain, during the school’s pre-Lent celebration of Fat Tuesday. Face-painting was part of the festivities and Father Giap sported an image of Batman, one of Lewis’ favorite superheroes. (Photo submitted)

Lewis also was part of the Fellowship of Lion Athletes at JSerra, a group similar to the national organization, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Kayla Gradillas, moderator of FLA and the school’s head athletic trainer, knew Lewis throughout his time at JSerra. He visited her office daily working to recover quickly from workouts and to get help with drills.

“The whole premise of FLA is to provide leadership to student athletes, to give them tools to use their platform as a way to glorify God,” Gradillas said. “Royce was involved as a leader and was able to share his testimony with his peers, which was neat, because everyone knows him.”

The fellowship also does service projects. One visit was a trip to Ronald McDonald House, where Lewis and other student leaders met families staying at the house and cooked breakfast for them.

“All of these groups taught students to be leaders and role models of faith within the school and in life,” Lewis said.

Norbertine Father Damien Giap, the school’s chaplain, also played a role in Lewis’ formation. Lewis said Father Giap, an avid sports enthusiast, gave him a “foundation of faith that was relatable and intriguing.”

“In preaching to teenagers, I have to be relevant,” Father Giap said, “otherwise they’ll tune me out real fast. So I occasionally quote from movies and I bring in a lot of sports analogy.”

Lewis is a huge fan of Batman and often wears the logo on his clothing, including a tiny emblem on his baseball cap. One of the references Father Giap used with students this year was from the Lego Batman movie.

“In the movie, Robin asked Batman upon entering the Batmobile, ‘Where are the seatbelts?’ To this Batman responded, ‘Lesson No. 1: Life doesn’t give you seatbelts!’” Father Giap explained.

“I told the students that, because life can be challenging, it doesn’t give you seatbelts. You have to rely upon the love of God and the sacraments to help us in life. Caritas Christi, ‘the love of Christ,’ would then serve as our ‘seatbelts’ when our fallen world doesn’t offer us one.”

Father Giap hopes that Lewis will take that message with him as he faces new challenges in the coming months and years.

“Any way you live, you have to contend with what the world tells you, and so we try to instill Christian virtues in our students. Royce is clearly someone who has modeled all of those things and been a great role model to others,” Father Giap said, especially noting Lewis’ humility and his ability to recognize that his talent comes from God.

“His humility will make him a good example to others on the team because he is likely going to come across an environment that might not promote certain values like chastity, purity or temperance. Knowing he strives for holiness and a life of virtues, he will continue to reflect that on the baseball field in terms of how he handles adversity.”

Lewis signed a contract worth $6.7 million during a press conference June 17 and has started with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins in Fort Myers, Florida.

He said that during his first trip to Minnesota, he was welcomed with open arms.

“We absolutely love the [unofficial] state motto, ‘Minnesota Nice’ and fully believe this is where God intended me to be,” he said. “I am blessed in so many ways and honored to begin my journey with the Twins and hope to build a long career which will make my new home in the beautiful Twin Cities.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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