By: Mike Ashmore
How did Ray Navarrete, who won a championship with the Somerset Patriots 2005 and later became one of the most prolific players in Atlantic League history with the Long Island Ducks, go from being a multi-time participant in the All-Star Game’s home run derby to owning a company that’s sponsoring it?
“You get old, you can’t hit home runs anymore and you realize you have to really work hard,” quipped Navarrete.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. The now-40-year-old Navarrete, who ended his career winning back-to-back titles with the Ducks in 2012 and 2013, had an eye for the fashion business even while he was still playing; he’d sell his Digmi-branded shirts out of the trunk of his car to teammates, members of the opposing team and, yes, even members of the media back then.
Now, that’s evolved into a still-growing company that’s found its way into major retail outlets and onto some very recognizable major-leaguers.
“We wanted to work really hard on something we started,” Navarrete said. “It went from a crazy idea of selling T-shirts in Atlantic League clubhouses and changed into a business that’s now in a few national retailers, and we’re taking a chance here and sponsoring my favorite hit, the home run. I think it was a really good opportunity to do it here on Long Island, a place that’s meant so much to me. The Home Run Derby is pretty cool, so we think it’s Digmi.”
For many players, life after baseball can be difficult. But the way Navarrete prepared himself for that while he was still in uniform continues to pay huge dividends.
“I’m very proud of it all,” he said during an impromptu chat in front of some of his staff and friends.
“I’m the face of it, because I’m the guy who started it and I never gave up, but the reality of it is that the people behind us right now, they’re the heart and soul and the backbone. If they weren’t in my ear saying that we can’t give up and that we have to keep going…they’re the reasons that we’re still here. Just like any small business, you have small bumps in the road and a lot of obstacles, and there were many times a few years where we probably shouldn’t be here right now. But, because they believe in it as much as I did if not more, we’re here. It’s really cool. We have a long way to go. It’s not the major leagues, but this is a major sports league and we’re sponsoring one of their big events, and that’s pretty cool.”
Navarrete co-emceed the event with Ducks radio voice Mike Polak, using the “Tip Your Cap” slogan any time someone homered; Deibinson Romero won the event, wearing a slick-looking Digmi cap with the “Guy In The Tie” logo on the front.
It was another big step for a company that’s come a long way since the humble beginnings out of the trunk of Navarrete’s car. So, what’s next?
“If we hit a home run with this event — no pun intended — the goal is kind of like how I played, put the pedal to the metal, show the content we get from this event, and we’re going to share that and say that I know we’ve been small for a while, but we’ve got our feet wet in national retailers and we’re ready,” Navarrete said.
“We’re kind of like the guy who’s sitting in Triple-A knocking on the door saying, ‘Listen, call me up, I’m ready, I can do it.’ The good news is now, they know who we are, and they have given us a chance to be in some of their stores. When we have meetings with them, we can say, ‘We did, we survived and now we’re ready to take the next step and become a star player in the apparel game. I think we can pull it off, I really do.”