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Former Ute, Owl and Bee, C.J. Cron is mashing it for the Angels

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake Bees' infielder C.J. Cron talks about his return to Utah during media day for the Salt Lake Bees baseball team, at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City, Tuesday April 1, 2014.

By Matthew Piper

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 18 2014 06:51PM
Updated May 19, 2014 10:18AM

It’s one of life’s cruel jokes that it’s often hardest to sleep when you need to.

C.J. Cron learned he’d be a Los Angeles Angel the night of May 2 in Salt Lake City, shortly after going 3-for-5 with a home run in a win over Reno.

He was "juiced" by the news, he told The Tribune by phone Thursday — but he needed shuteye, so he slept a couple hours at home, dozed on his short early morning flight and tried to relax when he checked into his Anaheim hotel.

By the time he took the field at Angels Stadium, you could have excused the nerve-wracked slugger if he had been a tick slow, if he had stood idly while Rangers starter Matt Harrison fired three straight down the prime meridian.

Excuses weren’t necessary, though.

Cron knocked Harrison’s first pitch to left for his first hit and his first RBI, driving in fellow former Salt Lake Bee Mike Trout. He doubled in his second at-bat and later hit the go-ahead RBI single.

Presumably, sleep comes easier now for the 24-year-old.

"It was pretty fun," said Cron. "It was good to kind of get the first one out of the way, and just to help the team win was really about as good as it gets."

Before he became a Salt Lake Bee, Cron was an Orem Owl and a Utah Ute.

The only Swingin’ Ute ever to be drafted in Major League Baseball’s first round, Cron has met or exceeded expectations at each level in the minors. He was hitting .319 with six home runs and 26 RBIs in 113 at-bats when the Angels moved third baseman David Freese to the disabled list and gave Cron the call.

He still has room to improve. He walked just seven times with the Bees, and none yet in the majors. Cron also went yard just 14 times in 519 at-bats last season, and the Angels reportedly expect the 235-pounder to provide heart-of-the-order power.

But it’s early yet, and he’s shown signs of addressing the latter shortcoming: Cron’s first MLB home run, a 468-foot shot in Toronto, is one of the longest in either league this season.

"The first one’s always pretty stressful, so it was nice to get that out of the way," Cron said. He hit another the next day. "Hopefully there’s many more of them."

Through Sunday’s series finale against Tampa Bay, Cron had 41 at-bats, 13 hits, those two homers, six RBIs and was hitting .317. Given the struggles of 41-year-old designated hitter Raul Ibanez (hitting .148 in 108 at-bats), he seems likely to stick around even after Freese returns from the DL.

Cron said his new teammates treated him to a warm reception and frequently offer advice. He knows most of them already from spring training. As a rookie, he’s charged with hauling water on the bus to and from the airport, but that’s the extent of his chores thus far.

He’s the son of Chris Cron, a longtime minor league coach and journeyman player who began his own brief stint in the majors with the Angels — then the California Angels — in August 1991.

Dad, who works as a minor league hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hopped a flight from the Dominican Republic to make it out by the seventh inning of his son’s debut.

By that time, C.J. had more career MLB hits (3) than Chris (2).

"He was happy for me, saying that it’s still the same game and to try to go out there and do what I do," Cron said, adding later: "You can’t really go out there nervous or go out there starstruck. You can’t do any of those things or else that could affect how you play."

Cron is living in the hotel now. In Salt Lake, he was staying with college roommate Jo Jo Sharrar, so he didn’t have to hassle with any lease legalese.

He already misses his buddies and says it was a joy to spend a month with old friends, but he can hardly complain about the company of, say, Albert Pujols, the newest member of baseball’s 500 home run club.

"It’s about as good as it’s advertised," he said of life in the majors. "It’s what we all strive to be as baseball players, so once we get the opportunity … it’s just fun to be out there."

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

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