EVERETT — First thing, about that music: Yes, that’s “Touch My Body” by Mariah Carey.
A playful song with a catchy hook, it’s still an atypical choice for an Everett AquaSox player’s walkup music. But then Eric Filia is an atypical Everett AquaSox player.
He is a bearded Southern Californian who often eschews an undershirt beneath his mesh batting practice jersey, allowing chest hair to poke through. He’s a hard-swinging, middle-of-the-order-hitting lefty who is tied for the team lead with four home runs despite his relatively small stature at 6-foot, 190 pounds.
“He gets the most out of his ability and the most out of his frame, and there are a lot of big leaguers like that,” Everett manager Rob Mummau said.
Filia became a cult hero on UCLA’s 2013 College World Series-winning club, gaining as much notoriety for his then-girlfriend, who was a favorite of the network cameras, as he did for being named to the All-CWS Team after helping the Bruins win college baseball’s ultimate prize.
Then came a two-year hiatus from the baseball team, a stint of time during which he worked as a butler at the Playboy Mansion before he returned to the Bruins program for the 2016 season.
“He’s definitely a unique individual, but what he brings is a lot of positive energy and a lot of baseball knowledge to the game,” Everett hitting coach Brian Hunter said. “He’s very knowledgeable about the game and it’s been a treat to have him on the team, for sure.”
Oh, and Filia is 24, making him the second-oldest AquaSox player behind pitcher Jefferson Medina.
“Some of the guys call me ‘Gramps,’” Filia quipped.
There have been plenty of detours along Filia’s path to Everett Memorial Stadium, some of his doing and some not. Following the 2013 CWS he suffered a labrum injury to his throwing shoulder that required surgery and wiped out his 2014 campaign. Then, that summer he plagiarized a paper and was suspended for the 2014-15 academic year.
“UCLA is a tough academic school, everybody knows that (and) I messed up,” Filia said. “I did all my citations right, but I didn’t follow class policy and they have a zero-tolerance policy at UCLA and they stuck to who they are and I respect that and I respect their decision. All I had to do was really learn from it. I can’t really dwell on it. I just moved forward and did everything I could do to get back.”
Away from the game and suspended from school, Filia “didn’t want to sit around twiddling his thumbs.” His uncle had worked parties at the Playboy Mansion and had a friend who got Filia an interview. His first day as a butler at the mansion was the 2014 Halloween Party.
“I’m really not allowed to say a couple things, but the experience was great, the people were nice that worked there, and I was one of the youngest people that worked there,” Filia said. “I got to meet Hugh Hefner. He’s very polite. He says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and his wife, Crystal, was phenomenal. She was very beautiful and very nice. A lot of the people that I met there were very down to earth and very genuine people.”
Two years away from the game is undoubtedly difficult. Players don’t get the repetitions they need and it takes a while to get your timing back at the plate. Yet Filia always eyed a return to the game.
“I never really thought ‘This is over,’ because I love the game of baseball,” Filia said. “It made me hungrier to be out on the field and I just never took anything for granted. I worked my butt off trying to get back in shape and trying to get healthy again and do therapy on my own.”
Filia was allowed back into UCLA as a student, and head baseball coach John Savage allowed him back on the baseball team this past spring.
The outfielder hit .295/.415/.411 with three home runs and 32 RBI in his final season as a Bruin.
“The whole suspension was kind of good for me,” Filia said. “It made me really know who I was as a person off the field and helped me carry it into being a better person on the field.”
He’s continued to produce with Everett, hitting .316/.400/.474 with four homers and 24 RBI going into Monday’s game.
“In between pitches he uses his time wisely and gathers his thoughts very well,” Hunter said. “He’s a mature hitter. He’s going to do well and I feel like he’s going to move through baseball pretty quickly and get to the major leagues.”
Lastly, about that song: It was the brainchild of Alex “Taz” Crane, a good friend of Filia’s, and a groundskeeper at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium. Filia promised Taz that he would use “Touch My Body” during the Saturday game of the USC series on May 14. Filia finished 1-for-3 with a two-run double — coincidentally off current Everett teammate Kyle Davis — as the Bruins came from behind to win 4-3.
Filia has kept the song ever since, and in retrospect a Mariah Carey walkup song isn’t all that shocking for Filia.
Like most things in his life, it comes with an interesting story.
Zammarelli named NWL Player of the Week
Everett’s Nick Zammarelli was named the Northwest League Player of the Week for the week of July 18-24, the league announced Monday.
Zammarelli, the eighth-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in this year’s draft, hit .393/.414/.714 with three doubles, two home runs, eight RBI and four runs in seven games. The Lincoln, Rhode Island, native is the fourth AquaSox player honored by the league, joining outfielder Kyle Lewis, and pitchers Ljay Newsome and Elliot Surrey.
For the latest AquaSox news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter @jessegeleynse.