Grove of Dreams

The life and times of orange picker-turned-big leaguer Jesse Flores

Blyleven didn’t see much of Flores after he made the big leagues, although he made it a point to work out with Flores’ rookie teams during winter league and spring training. “All the young kids respected him,” Blyleven said. “He was like a fatherly figure, someone you respected. You knew he had been in the game a long time and signed a lot of good major-league players. All in all, he wasn’t just a pitching coach, but also a friend. If you had a bad outing, he’d get you ready for the next one. If you had a good start, he wouldn’t let you get too high. You took the good with the bad, and that was what Jesse was about, like life.”

The two kept in touch once Blyleven left the Twins, talking every couple of months. Blyleven was there when Jesse’s wife, Consuelo, passed away and he became friends with Flores’ two sons, Steve and Jesse Jr., both of whom became renowned scouts in their own right. Blyleven and Steve still hold charity golf tournaments in the Inland Empire for hemophilia research.

“Jesse is someone I admired,” Blyleven says. “He was like a father figure to me. I put Jesse in the same column as my pops. They were two men who cared. That’s how you want to be remembered—as a man who loved what he did and had a lot of charisma to get the best out of other people.

“It’s easy to say a lot of nice things about Jess,” adds Blyleven. “Every time I think of him, I get a smile.”

THAT BIRD’S GOING TO MAKE IT

“My father gave money to whoever needed it,” Steve Flores said during a recent conversation. He currently works with the Texas Rangers as their head of scouting on the West Coast. “He drove an old Thunderbird, and we’d always tell him to get a new car. But he wouldn’t. He’d rather save money or give it to people. No questions asked. I’d always asked him why he gave it away, and he would always say, ‘Because they need it. Besides, if you give a loan, you’re probably not going to get it back.’ He once owned a gas station that went belly-up because he just gave [the gas] away.

“He never talked about his playing days,” Steve adds. “He’d rather talk about family, friends. About the most he would say is what good orange pickers his brothers were.”

Flores finally received accolades toward the end of his career. In 1985, Major League Baseball named him the West Coast Scout of the Year. Two years later, the Minnesota Twins—riding the strong arm of Blyleven, who had rejoined his original squad—won the World Series for the first time since 1924, when they were the Washington Senators and their Orange County ace was Walter “Big Train” Johnson. That same year, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined Flores in their pantheon; the plaque noted his less-than-stellar record but lauded the man, saying Flores “held up against the best baseball in the world. . . . [His career] was a noteworthy achievement if you take into account that in those days, American baseball was full of big stars.”

Flores finally resigned from the Minnesota Twins in 1989 after 27 years of scouting. He helped the Pittsburgh Pirates for a couple of more seasons before retiring for good in 1990. He passed away the following year at 77 and had never moved away from La Habra. Blyleven gave the eulogy at the funeral.

Eventually, La Habra atoned for its previous sins against Flores. In 1994, the city christened a trio of Little League baseball fields the Jesse Flores Sports Complex. The diamonds are located in Portola Park, a small patch of land that sits on the site where Flores and Los Juveniles played. In 2001, La Habra honored him again with a plaque in the park. It praised his ceaseless commitment to the city’s young ballplayers. “Many hopeful players called [Flores], begging for a tryout,” it reads in part. “Jesse would arrange to meet with them and would begin by saying, ‘Okay, show me what you’ve got.’ If the prospect was good and showed love for the game, Jesse would conclude, ‘That bird’s going to make it to the big leagues.’”

“Everyone loved him,” Steve Flores says. “He was just a good guy. I still run into people who’ll say, ‘Your father was one of the best human beings ever.’”

“Boy, my father had a blessed life,” Flores adds. “Everything he did just went right.”

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

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