A winter of sorrow has given way to a spring of contentment for Efren Navarro, whose superb exhibition season in the wake of his father's death has positioned the first baseman/outfielder for a spot on the Angels bench.
Efren Navarro Sr., who was diagnosed with leukemia six years ago, encouraged his son in November to return to Mexico to play winter ball so he could hone the corner outfield skills that would increase his versatility.
Navarro was set to fly to Mexico on Dec. 1, but his father's condition worsened. Efren Sr., who spent 33 years replacing anchor spikes for Union Pacific Railroad, was hospitalized and began twice-weekly chemotherapy treatments.
As beneficial as another season of winter ball would have been, Navarro did not get on that plane, deciding instead to spend as much time as he could with the father who returned from his grueling work days to teach his son how to play baseball.
Navarro Sr., suffered a stroke in early February, and an infection triggered the cardiac arrest that killed him on Feb. 20 at age 68, only four days before Navarro, a Lynwood native who was chosen in the 50th (and last) round in 2007, reported to camp.
"It wasn't the cancer that got him, it was cardiac arrest — it showed he battled, he was a warrior," Navarro, 28, said. "I'm happy I made the decision to stay. I feel like if I didn't, I wouldn't be at peace right now."
Navarro has drawn inspiration and motivation from his father this spring. He singled once in Friday's 7-2 exhibition loss Arizona and is batting .461 (18 for 39) in 19 games, with three doubles and five runs batted in.
He's in a battle for the final bench spot with Marc Krauss, who, like Navarro, bats left-handed, plays first base and outfield and is having a solid spring, batting .474 (nine for 19).
The decision will come down to whether the Angels prefer the better defensive player in Navarro, a smooth-fielding first baseman who has developed into a solid outfielder, or the power hitter in Krauss.
"Efren puts the ball in play, and he's finding holes," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's a better player from understanding his game and his swing and his talent. He's a gap-to-gap hitter. He's a tough out. That's when he's at his best."
Navarro's career stalled at triple-A Salt Lake, where he played most of three seasons from 2011-2013, but he learned how to play outfield in winter ball before 2014, and that "rejuvenated my career," he said.
Navarro made 23 starts in the outfield last season and hit .245 with one homer, 10 doubles and 14 RBIs in 64 games, helping to ease the loss of the injured Josh Hamilton. Hamilton's shoulder surgery and probable suspension for violating baseball's drug program this spring has opened another door for Navarro.
"I'm just trying to make the best impression possible," he said, "and hope for the best."
Dog day afternoon
C.J. Wilson had a rough start Friday, needing 88 pitches to throw 4 1/3 innings in which he gave up five runs — one earned — and nine hits, struck out three and walked two. He threw 26 pitches in the first inning and 30 in a four-run second in which the Angels committed two errors.
"It was a long first inning and a really long second," Wilson said. "There were some twilight-zone, full-moon, Friday-the-13th-like bounces out there."
A large photo of Wilson, who went 13-10 with a 4.51 earned-run average in 2014, was also removed from the home-plate entrance of Angel Stadium this week.
"It's the big leagues," Wilson said. "If you lose 10 or 11 games, you're not going to be the face of the franchise. It's fine."