TAMPA - He was told it was unlikely, probably a long shot. Still, former Jefferson High shortstop Steven Negron always visualized a future in professional baseball. At the same time, he continually heard the labels.
Not good enough.
Monday, when Negron signed with the Detroit Tigers organization, the often-repeated disparaging remarks continued to fuel his motivation.
"During the toughest moments, there were times when I thought, 'Maybe people are right,' " said Negron, who batted .378 last season at Miami-Dade College and was a 17th-round selection of the Tigers. "But it didn't last long. I had to battle, but I always felt like I could prove people wrong.
"Now it feels too good to be true.''
Negron, a native of Puerto Rico who arrived in Tampa seven years ago without speaking a word of English, said he stands 5-foot-8. He was a very productive high-school player, batting .455 as a senior and making dazzling defensive plays.
But he was hardly noticed. Glancing at the Tampa Tribune's 2011 All-Hillsborough County team, the headliners were Alonso pitcher Jose Fernandez (rookie with the Miami Marlins), Jesuit pitcher Lance McCullers (top prospect in the Houston Astros organization) and Jefferson pitcher Jimmy Herget (freshman All-American at the University of South Florida).
It's easy to overlook Negron.
No big deal. He's accustomed to that.
"Steven has big-man tools in a small frame,'' Tigers scout Rolando Casanova said. "When he slows the game down, when he relaxes, he has exceptional ability.
"It doesn't matter what happened before or what people said. Now he has an opportunity. It's like I told him, 'You're a professional now. Look straight ahead at the end of the rainbow. You've got to be better than the guy who is bigger.' But that has been his way of life.''
Negron, expected to begin with the Tigers' Class-A short-season affiliate in Connecticut, said he admires Blue Jays infielder Emilio Bonofacio (5-11). He has drawn inspiration from Dustin Pedroia (5-8 and American League MVP in 2008) and David Eckstein (5-6, World Series MVP in 2006).
"I think Steven will be inspirational himself,'' said Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta, who counts seven major-leaguers among his former players, including perennial All-Stars Luis Gonzalez, Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff. "I believe in him, because he believes in his heart that he can play. That's half the battle right there.
"I guarantee you no one in the Tiger organization will outwork him or outhustle him. I've seen a lot of guys in my time. He's kind of special.''
Negron, who returns this week to Miami for completion of his Associate of Arts degree, is an aggressive defensive player. Offensively, he utilizes speed and an ability to hit to all fields.
"The instincts are there,'' Casanova said.
Now the opportunity is there, too.
"Everybody has a different situation, a different story,'' said Negron, 20, who had signed with Florida International University but will forego that scholarship. "Now it's going to be about how I take advantage of this.
"I'm not looking to hang around for three years (in the minor leagues) then disappear. Like everybody else, I want to get to the big leagues. I've always heard the reasons why I wouldn't be able to do it. Now I want to prove that I can.''