“Fastball John” by John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan rivals Mike Piazza’s “Long Shot” as one of baseball’s best books of the decade. “Fastball John”features a prolific foreword by baseball historian Dan Epstein as well as references to a soundtrack of pop culture including: the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Carpenters, the Temptations, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Donna Summer, Nicolette Larson, Blondie, Dave Mason, Don Henley, the Pretenders and New Order. “Fastball John” D’Acquisto will be signing his new book on September 24th and 25th from 1 to 4 PM at The Pennant, 2893 Mission Blvd. in San Diego’s South Mission Beach. It will be a family reunion of sorts since John Francis D’Acquisto was born in San Diego on December 24, 1951. He would later become a hometown hero while attending St. Augustine High School, where he excelled in both football and baseball.
In the 1920’s, most Italian immigrants who settled near downtown San Diego were fishermen from Genoa and Sicily. Many other Italian fishermen and their families moved to San Diego from San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Like Joe DiMaggio’s father– who was a fisherman in the Bay Area–John D’Acquisto’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., also depended on the fishing industry to put food on the table. As serendipitous as it may sound, the two sons of Italian immigrant families would meet in 1975 when John was honored by Joe DiMaggio and the Italian-American Society as its “Italian-American of the Year”. John’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., was a local San Diego celebrity for 51 years as he worked for the legendary Anthony’s Fish Grotto Restaurant in the vibrant downtown Little Italy community. Starting out as a young teenager, John’s father worked himself up to dining room manager and would split his time between the original restaurant and their sister location, the Star of the Seas.
A first-round pick in the 1970 amateur draft, John D’Acquisto was selected by the San Francisco Giants. Blessed with a death-defying fastball, “Johnny D” made his MLB debut for the Giants late in the 1973 season. He was named National League Rookie of the Year and National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News in 1974. During the span of his ten season career, John D’Acquisto pitched for the Giants, Cardinals, Padres, Expos, Angels and Athletics from 1973-1982. Read John’s blog and order “Fastball John” today by clicking HERE.
While pitching for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, lefty Dan Serafini began his 22nd season playing as a pro in America, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. With 104 MLB appearances for the Twins, Cubs, Pirates, Padres, Reds, and Rockies under his belt, the bullpen has always been a second home for the Twins’ first-round draft pick of 1992. So when when it came time for the San Francisco-born Serafini to choose an appropriate name for his new sports bar located close to the family home at 5215 Vista Blvd. in Sparks, Nevada, it was simply a case of serendipity that he call it The Bullpen at Aspen Glen.
Dan Serafini has been one of the Bay Area’s hometown heroes since the early nineties. In his senior year at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, the southpaw pitcher was on every MLB scout’s radar after going nearly perfect (11 wins and 1 loss) and setting a single-season school record of 149 strikeouts. In his two seasons playing varsity for the Padres, he went 20-2 with a 1.70 ERA and 271 strikeouts. Perhaps the most appropriate way to leave a legacy that overshadows the numerous accolades that other notable Serra alumni have achieved during their high school campaign, Serafini was named to every All-Star team conceivable including: AII- WCAL, AII- County, All Peninsula, and All Northern California.
He was the 1992 WCAL, County and Peninsula Co-Player of the Year in addition to being named the San Mateo Times County Athlete of the Year.
Roberto: San Mateo’s Junipero Serra High School has been known to produce their share of athletes including Barry Bonds and many sports legends. While covering the Australian Baseball League, I learned that Brisbane Bandits’ Chuck Lofgren pitched at Serra High School. Having also played there, how does it feel being surrounded by a strong Bay Area professional athlete fraternity at Serra? Dan Serafini: Serra High School is a great baseball facility and just a great school to go to. We had a lot of great players: Jim Fregosi, Dan Frisella…even some football players: Lynn Swann, Tom Brady. We have quite an athletic history. Some really good baseball players like Gregg Jeffries have come out of my school.
Roberto: Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello followed the same minor league path to MLB playing for Double-A New Britain RockCats. While you played there, you were named to the 1995 Eastern League All-Star team after going 12-9 with a 3.37 ERA. Dan Serafini: That was a long time ago. I can barely even remember that. At New Britain, Chris got to play in the new stadium. I played in the old Beehive Stadium, which was more like a high school stadium with a trailer park locker room. I had a good year that year, and it got me a call up to Triple-A before the season was over.Roberto: You made your MLB debut on June 25, 1996 in Minnesota against the New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: It was not an easy team to pitch against for my first time playing in the big leagues, but it was a great memory. It was kind of funny.
The Twins wouldn’t let me into the locker room before the game. They didn’t want any animosity in the locker room because they hadn’t sent anyone down (to Triple-A) yet. I had to stay in a hotel and then on game day I got to show up right before the game started so that I could get ready to play. It wasn’t the greatest experience, but it was still a good experience. I got to the big leagues! Roberto: At least it was a home game when you had to face the intimidating New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: Although it was a home game in Minnesota, it was still intimidating. It was the New York Yankees—no matter where you are playing them, they are intimidating. Crowd factor definitely helped. I had the crowd on my side. I loved Minnesota. It was very supportive. I had a great time.
Roberto: You also had some more playing time with the Twins in 1997 and 1998. Was it rewarding for you? Dan Serafini: It was. I got a very brief opportunity with the Twins. You know, going back from starting to the bullpen and starting and bullpen. I was never really able to fill my niche with the Twins. It was fun. It was rewarding. I’m a Major League Baseball player. There is nothing more rewarding than that. Roberto: The Chicago Cubs bought your contract from the Twins on March 31, 1999. You made four starts for the Cubbies and put together a 3-2 record in 42 appearances with a 6.93 ERA. Dan Serafini: The ERA was kind of high, but in my defense I actually pitched really well until the all-star break. I think I only had a 3 or 3.50 ERA up until the all-star break. Then my big league pitching coach, Marty DeMerritt, wanted me to become a left-handed specialist and drop down sidearm and start pitching sidearm only. So I did that, and it completely screwed up the whole rest of my season. I was walking everybody, giving up all kinds of hits and just all kind of happened. I can’t blame him. He was just trying to help me out, but to change your pitching mechanics in the middle of the season… It’s really hard to make an adjustment to big league hitters. It hurt me pretty good.
Roberto: In the 1999 offseason you were traded to the San Diego Padres and pitched in three games in 2000. How did it feel to come back to your native California to play pro ball? Dan Serafini: I was there for a long time. I didn’t get many opportunities.
I was mostly like a chess pawn. I just kind of sat in the dugout. I’d go a week straight without pitching in a game.
I didn’t get as many opportunities as
I would have liked to become a better player than I am today. San Diego is beautiful, and I’m from California–even though it’s Northern California where I’m from. Southern California is a beautiful place. I guess I had more fun there off the field than on the field.
Roberto: After being traded to Pittsburgh and playing for the Nashville Sound, you had a 4-3 record with a 2.60 ERA before the call up to the Pirates on August 5, 2000 to make 11 starts. Dan Serafini: After getting traded from San Diego, I had a really good month or so in Nashville before getting called up.
I made my first start against the San Francisco Giants and won. That could have been probably my favorite time in the big leagues–to be going back home to my hometown and beating San Francisco in San Francisco. I had a pretty good season with Pittsburgh. They were struggling and in last place. I threw well for Pittsburgh. I just didn’t fit in their books. Roberto: Signing with San Francisco must have been a dream come true? Dan Serafini: I didn’t get to stay with San Francisco too long. They signed me as a big league player, but they didn’t have a roster spot. I went to Triple-A for a little bit. I was making a substantial amount of money for a Triple-A player so when they couldn’t find a spot for me I got released about a month after
I signed. So I really didn’t get much of an opportunity with San Francisco. Roberto: You quickly signed with the Mets and played for the 2001 Triple-A Norfolk Tides, where you posted 5-2 record with a 3.31 ERA in 31 games. Dan Serafini: I didn’t waste anytime—maybe two days later signed with the Mets. Went to Triple-A and played there a little bit. I pitched pretty well, but got into an altercation with the GM. I ended up getting released and walking on over to the other clubhouse and signed up with Milwaukee that same day. Roberto: You finished off the 2001 season pitching for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians and posted a 2-2 record with a 5.96 ERA. However,
you chose to move on from Milwaukee
and were granted free agency in October, 2001. This opened the door for other opportunities, and you ended up signing a minor league deal with the Anaheim Angels. Was that another short-term engagement by design or a matter of being released? Please clear up all the misconceptions and incorrect information the media has picked up on to make you have to stand up for yourself and clarify. Dan Serafini: Well you know the thing is…the media–they always say you were released, you were released, you were released. But for a lot of those teams I’ve actually picked the option for my release.
I didn’t get released. They would option me down to Triple-A, and I felt that I didn’t deserve to go to Triple-A. So for a lot of those assignments I chose not to go. Roberto: After opting out of your contract with the Angels, you tried to make a comeback in late 2002 when you signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. You began at Triple-A Memphis, but then on April 21, 2003 you were released. Dan Serafini: I knew what was going to happen because during the offseason I signed for such a high contract to go to Triple-A. I knew they were using me to fill a spot. So I knew as soon as no one came down from the big leagues or something that I was going to get released.
Roberto: So you expected it? Dan Serafini: I had signed for a substantial amount of money to go and play in Triple-A. Within the first month when Kevin Ohme was sent down from St. Louis, they got rid of me the next day. I pitched okay there, but it was really hard because I have always been a starter my whole career and I kept bouncing back and forth. I was going from bullpen to starting to bullpen and starting and never got into a rhythm. So for all these teams I played for, I had really a tough time coming out of the bullpen and learning my routine and learning to play. Unfortunately, I didn’t really prove myself that well as well. Roberto: It sounds like the experiment on the big league level of being a sidearm specialist coming out of the bullpen went terribly wrong. It was not exactly the best training ground for trying something new. Dan Serafini: No. The only chance I had to experiment was on the big stage, which is really difficult if you are not physically or mentally prepared for those things. I wasn’t…I was only 21 or 22 at the time. It was a difficult road for me–that’s for sure! Roberto: Did being disillusioned with American pro ball inspire you to head south to Mexico? Dan Serafini: Yes, I played my first year in 2002. It was winter ball for Mazatlan. I had a great manager and a really fun time there. And they said if I ever had a problem in summer that I was more than welcome to play in Mexico. So after that St. Louis series, I went in 2003 to go play summer ball in Mexico. Roberto: The Cincinnati Reds noticed and purchased your contract on August 25, 2003. Dan Serafini: I ended up winning the ERA title. I set the record for the most wins in a row that season. I was a starter. I got back in the my swing of things. I got my mechanics back and pitched really well. I got called up and went straight to the big leagues in Cincinnati.
Roberto: On August 26, 2003, you started against the Milwaukee Brewers. Dan Serafini: I believe I also started in a game versus St. Louis. Then I went back to the bullpen after I told the GM
I wouldn’t go to the bullpen and that I would only start. Because I had already 130 innings pitched in Mexico, I was tired and said I didn’t want to get up and down every day out of the bullpen. After I said I only wanted to start, the GM said that was exactly what I was summoned there to do–to start for Danny Graves because he got hurt. So I went there, got two starts and they stuck me in the bullpen. It was a disappointment. I know it’s a business, and I just need to man up and do it. It was just hard. I talked to Bobby Valentine in 2004, and he asked me to go down to Vegas and throw a bullpen for somebody to try out for the team he managed in Japan. I went out there and tried out for the Chiba Lotte Marines. I was hurt at the time. I had a broken collar bone because
I crashed on a motorcycle messing around with my friends. Despite being injured, I still got a good enough report from the try out to go to Japan.
Julio Zuleta charged Dan Serafini on the mound after a ball nearly hit him in Japan in 2004 .
Roberto:: After being granted free agency and playing for Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004 and 2005 as well as the Orix Buffaloes in 2006 and 2007, were you treated with a little bit more respect in Japan? Dan Serafini: It was really rewarding because I actually got treated like a player that I was. Japan did nothing but give me the highest respect. Bobby Valentine did nothing but give me the highest respect. He kept me on a routine for the full season, and I had a really good career in Japan. I still talk to Bobby off and on the internet. I was happy to see him as an Ambassador for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Bobby Valentine throws out the first pitch of the 2013 WBC game between China and Japan.
Roberto: Did you follow all the drama that surrounded Bobby Valentine last year when he managed the Boston Red Sox? Dan Serafini: I did. In fact, before the season began I called him and asked him for a job to see if I could get a Triple-A job or a coaching/ player job. His hands were tied. He said that he couldn’t make any moves. But I followed him and saw all the disappointing articles about him and stuff from players that couldn’t handle his attitude. I thought it was ridiculous. He’s the smartest guy in baseball–hands down. He may want a little more attention than he deserves, but that’s his character.
If people don’t like it, they try to crucify him. He’s a very good man!
Roberto: It’s too bad he was the scapegoat for the Red Sox. Dan Serafini: It really was. I know he’s done some things in his past that has rubbed people the wrong way–and we all have. It’s just the way different personalities go–especially when you have a bunch of superstars in the one locker room. It’s almost like you have to walk on eggshells around these people because they’re more sensitive than most people that are not superstars. Roberto: When a player digs into the batter’s box and gives you a long grimacing stare, is your best response and message to the hitter simply the delivery of your next pitch? Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely–without a doubt. There’s got to be respect both ways. For me, I’ve always been tired of being called a cheater or having a dismal career by what some reporters have said. I feel like I have fought the longest just like Bobby Valentine did to get my career to where it is right now. Roberto: You signed a deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and pitched on September 7th against the San Francisco Giants. Dan Serafini: It was a great feeling. I was excited. It was tough because I had just come back from Japan. I broke my hand in Japan, and they decided to release me at the last quarter of the season just because they were not going to use me anymore and had no chance of the playoffs. So they sent me home, and
I signed with Colorado. I got called up to the big leagues a couple weeks later and after four years of not having seen a major league game got to pitch to my first batter–Barry Bonds!
Roberto: What were the odds of you facing one of baseball’s most feared hitters in your MLB comeback attempt? Dan Serafini: It was pretty interesting. I had some butterflies. Roberto: How did you sustain your hand injury overseas? Dan Serafini: That happened at a game in Japan. I was pitching and lost my footing in the bullpen. It was on my glove hand.
I kind of slipped and fell over. I used my hand to stabilize myself from falling over, and I broke my ring finger, pinky and a couple bones in the middle of my hand. Roberto: In Japan you also sustained an achilles injury which required medication to help with the healing process and eventually led to a positive test for MLB banned substances when you signed with the Rockies in 2007. Dan Serafini: I actually got a serious injury and had surgery on my achilles. When I came back from Chiba Lotte, I tore my achilles tendon in the year we won the championship. I signed a two-year contract with the Orix Buffaloes for a substantial amount. My leg with in a cast for four months so they were shooting it up all year long trying to get it balanced back.
After my first year at Orix, I wasn’t throwing very well because my body was so out of balance that it started hurting my shoulder and back. So they told me to just take the rest of the year off and come back for 2007. I was still having problems with my leg and the way my muscles were firing in 2007. So again a doctor was giving me a medication that I didn’t think much of because I passed all of my drug tests and Olympic testing in Japan. So I didn’t even think twice about it. And that’s what it was when I got tested on the last day of the season with Colorado. It was still in my system, and I got busted for it. Roberto: It looks like MLB used you as a scapegoat to fill their 2007 quota and deter players from using banned substances. Dan Serafini: Yes, I think so. I mean because I tried to fight it.
I had to do a lot of things for my defense. I had to get the doctor from Japan to come and fly to New York to testify for me in court. He wanted $500,000 to do it because it would give Japan a bad name since I never failed a test in Japan. So I said, ‘Screw it, I’ll take the 50-game suspension and wear it for now.’ I didn’t think that it would be that bad, but Colorado didn’t sign me back. The GM at the time, Dan O’Dowd, didn’t give me my National League Championship ring. They gave me my playoff share because I was there for a short time, but they didn’t give me a ring because they were disgraced by the fact that I was a cheater and stuff like that. It was just bad. An unnamed journalist tried to say that I was trying to respark my dismal career. My response was like: ‘What’s so dismal about making over 10 million dollars?’ I don’t think that’s too dismal… Roberto: If a man can’t look at me in the eye and share his theory to my face without the facts in hand—and instead choose to hide behind a computer desk in favor of meeting publishing deadlines, then it’s not news worthy in my book. Dan Serafini: Exactly. You know it’s like so many people just wrote stories about me that never even asked me the details or took the details out. Even Tom Verducci and things he wrote in my
article. I said so many things to balance and justify the difference between cheating and other kinds of uses of certain PEDs or whatever. And they don’t want to listen to that, but everybody wants to be negative and listen in to CNN nowadays. Roberto: Not a lot of players want to comment in fear of being blackballed. But you are not afraid to speak your mind and represent Team Italia in the World Baseball Classic. It’s your time to shine and be heard. Dan Serafini: Yes, it is. If people want to call me a jerk, whatever but you know what… I’ve been around this game for 22 years now. And I know that 90% of the people I have played with have said: ‘If I had a chance to use it and make myself better, then I would have too…’ You know, that’s what we’re here for. Roberto: I don’t blame you for having headed south to pitch for the Monterrey Sultanes after all that nonsense. Dan Serafini: They were a great organization. I played with them for a while and just kept bouncing back and forth. I pitched
well in Monterrey, got to the playoffs a few times and then I got traded. Roberto: You spent 2008 and 2009 in Mexico before heading to the East Coast to play for the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic Independent League. Dan Serafini: Yes, I did that just for a little bit so that I could get a job back in the states. I wanted more people to see me pitch, but nothing came of it. Roberto: Yet Mexico loved you and you represented the country in several Caribbean Series.
Dan Serafini: Yes, I believe I played three Caribbean Series for Mexico–all during winter ball because the Sultanes play during the summer. In the winter I played for Yaquis de Obregón in
the 2008 Caribbean Series and then again in 2010 and 2011
I played for Mexico in the Caribbean Series.
Roberto: What’s the difference between baseball played
abroad and in the U.S.? Dan Serafini: For one, the United States has the best players in the world in the major leagues. So it’s kind of hard to represent the United States because it has so many great players. Mexico and Italy have a lot of great players that have been overlooked by United States. It’s hard. With me representing Mexico, I am one of the better players in Mexico because that’s just where I am playing at the time. With my experience and talent, I can make those teams and play for those teams. I could possibly pitch for Team USA but that team has so many Americans from all over the country to pick from. So it’s really hard to make that team.
Roberto: How were you recruited to pitch for Team Italia? Dan Serafini: Actually they called me in 2009 and found out
that I was Italian through my agent. After they got the background information about my Italian ancestry, they said that they would love for me to come and try out. I came down, tried out and they said that they could definitely use me as a starter or reliever because of ‘my good arm.’ So the rest is history as far as that. Roberto: It must have a been a major personal victory for you when Team Italia upset Mexico in the 2013 WBC. Dan Serafini: Almost everyone on Team Mexico I either played with them or against them. Team Italy asked me to write a
scouting report on the whole team, which I did and gave to the coaches. They watched a few of their games during their exhibition games and said it was ‘spot on’ as far as the scouting report. That’s what we used, and it actually came out well. We pitched well against them. We played great defense against them, and we came out victors. Roberto: Once Team Italia’s manager Marco Mazzieri gave me his cell phone number, I felt compelled to do the same and gave him a scouting report on Team Canada. We all had to do our part. Dan Serafini: Well, that’s it…exactly! We’re here to win. Right
now, I’m not an American. I’m an Italian, and I’m here to beat Team USA today. I was there to beat Canada yesterday, and I was there the day before to beat Mexico. Granted I have friends from every team from all over the world, but right now I’m just Italian. I’m here to walk all over every other team. Roberto: How proud are you to be Italian? Dan Serafini: I am very proud to be Italian. It’s unfortunate because I have always had a strong Italian family growing up, but Italian heritage or history was never really taught. I never learned Italian even though my father speaks Italian and both of my grandparents only spoke Italian. I just wasn’t brought up that way. Now doing more research about Italy and possibly thinking later in my career to maybe going to play in Italy for a little bit. I’m really interested in the Italian culture and to visit all around Europe. I’m looking forward to it. Italians are a well-educated culture to begin with. Everyone on our team speaks perfect English and perfect Italian. Some speak Spanish, Italian and English. I think they are just educated people. Unfortunately
when you move to another country and are unable to speak their language fluently, you tend to get away from your native language.
I know when I played in Mexico my whole team spoke English. I didn’t have a chance to learn Spanish because people talked to me in English. So it’s not as diverse as you think. It’s a lot harder, even my wife can tell you it’s a lot harder to go there and learn a language because everyone is polite to you and tries to talk to you in your language to make you feel more comfortable. So we have a tendency to get lazy
and not try. But right now I listen to Italian tapes every night because
I want to try to learn Italian. Roberto: That’s because everyone is trying to be hospitable
and speak your native tongue? Dan Serafini: Yes. I mean the Italians come right over here, and they all speak English right out of the gate. They don’t even try to speak Italian. They’re like: ‘No, we’re in America now–we’re speaking English.’ That’s what they do. Roberto: How does having a coaching staff that includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza affect your approach to the game? Dan Serafini: Mike is a great guy. Look at his story–coming from the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda! Something ridiculous like that and becoming the best
offensive catcher of all time…whatever his statistics are.
Being blessed enough to play against him and talk to him,
it’s a great experience. Just because we have one more
person with a ton of experience on our team. He has been
in the spotlight for what…16 seasons! You know, I’ve been
in the spotlight for seven. Grilli has been the spotlight for
eight. So it’s like we have plenty of experience. It’s nice to
have someone of that magnitude on our team helping us out. Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing something else with his time,
but his heart and soul are committed to Team Italia. Dan Serafini: You’re right. It is…and we appreciate that! He could
be doing anything with his time, and a lot of us could be but we’re all here together to represent Italy. We’re going to represent the right way this time. Roberto: Thank you for your time today. I’m sure this story will be continued next time we get together to talk. Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely…I’m looking forward to continuing it. I will answer any question that needs to be answered. It’s nice to be able to explain myself for a change, and hopefully one day people will look at me differently.
As Chris Denorfia turns 33 on July 15th, the love for “The Norf”–the adorned nickname for one of San Diego’s best–is felt all the way to Italy, where his paternal grandmother Michelina lived. The East Coast native first linked up with his Italian roots as a teenager while visiting relatives in Italy and returned again for more Italian family amore in 2002 after graduating from Wheaton College during a Euro backpack adventure. Having represented Team Italy in the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics, Denorfia has a strong international following. Along with Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza, both serve as mentors for young athletes abroad now interested in the game after Italy’s strong showing in the WBC.
San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia was recently a guest on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk”.
The Friarhoodis a great website for San Diego baseball fans who want the latest Padres coverage with updated news and analysis. Writer Jeremy Nash not only provides the congregation with his uplifting “Five Good Things” column, but also showcases inspirational traditional and digital art featuring unsung hero Chris Denorfia. Successfully bridging the gap between the Padres’ faithful and lovers of modern art, the Friarhood’s Nash is just as much a rock star as Team Italia’s “Deno” in our book. However, Denorfia possesses superhero power equipped with lethal doses of kryptonite to demolish left-handed pitching. One of his favorite targets is MLB All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers. Deno has hit three home runs in his career 31 plate appearances against Kershaw. Kershaw’s losing 0-3 record and inflated 4.67 ERA against the 2013 Padres has a lot to do to Deno’s appetite for Dodger pitching (.342 BA, three home runs, two doubles and eight RBI in 11 games to date).
The Southern California North and South baseball rivalry will be in full effect with playoff hopes when the Dodgers visit Petco Park and battle the Padres on Little Italy Night on Saturday, September 21 at 5:40 pm. A pre-game ceremony honoring the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition at the Convivio Center (2157 India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy) will take place behind home plate prior to the first pitch. Longtime San Diego Little Italy resident and Padre alumni John D’Acquisto will be our honored guest at Petco Park.
Coming off stellar performances for Team Italy in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics, the love for Padres’ outfielder Chris Denorfia overflows well beyond San Diego’s Little Italy to the motherland where his paternal grandmother Michelina lived. The Connecticut native first connected with his Italian roots as a teenager while visiting relatives in Italy and returned again for more Italian family amore in 2002 after graduating from Wheaton College during a Euro backpack adventure.
The sentiment for Denorfia’s return to Team Italy after a remarkable 2009 WBC campaign was echoed by the first Italian-born pitcher signed by MLB, Alessandro Maestri. The former Cubs’ minor leaguer said, “A guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again.” During Italy’s 6-2 upset over 2009 WBC host Canada, Denorfia led the team in hits by going 4-for-4 with three doubles, a single, a walk, two runs and two RBI.
In their 2013 WBC opener versus Mexico on March 7th at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Team Italy began the ninth inning with odds against them facing the reliever who closed out the 2012 World Championship–San Francisco Giants’ Sergio Romo–and trailing by a score of 5 to 4.
After Romo got a quick out to start the top of the ninth, the enthusiastic Mexican fans in attendance responded with precisely-timed chants of victory and fiesta-like antics. Team Italy leadoff hitter Nick Punto silenced the premature postgame celebration with the crack of his bat for a double.
The small Italian contingency prayed for a miracle with Chris Denorfia up next. The right-hander Romo ignited the crowd once again after throwing back-to-back strikes. Down in the count 0-2, Denorfia exercised extreme plate discipline by taking three pitches just off the plate to work a full count. What happened next was unbelievable as Denorfia fouled off four straight pitches before lining Romo’s 10th pitch of the at-bat for a base hit. Anthony Rizzo endured a similar fate as Denorfia by falling behind 0-2 to Romo with the crowd on its feet. Italy had runners on the corners and one out. Mexico’s infield was set up for a double play to end the scoring threat and win the game. However, left-hand hitting Rizzo was thinking otherwise and drove Romo’s slider on the outside part of the plate deep to the left field warning track. Whether Italian divine intervention or merely a Mexican mishap, the ball miraculously went in and out of the glove of Mexico left fielder Edgar Gonzalez for a two-run double and a 6-5 Team Italy victory.
“The win over Mexico really got us going,” said Denorfia. “I think we surprised everyone in that game. We didn’t want to be that also-ran, the token team that everybody beat up on, and everyone responded. We had instant chemistry. The whole thing was amazing. It was like we were the road team the entire tournament. Some of crowds were a bit hostile to us. It seemed like every game we played, the crowd was against us — Mexico, Canada and the United States in Phoenix and then against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in Miami. I’m there any time they’d like me to represent Italy. It was one of my best experiences in the game.” Chris Denorfia went 8-for-21 (.381) with two doubles, five runs scored and an RBI in five games for Team Italy.In the process of making Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza very proud, Chris Denorfia currently leads the Padres’ everyday players in batting average (.395), on-base percentage (.465) and on-base percentage plus slugging (.965). Affectionately called “Deno” by his teammates and colleagues, the agile and versatile 32-year-old San Diego outfielder is poised to have his best season of his major league career. Leading off for the Friars in Tuesday’s game at Chavez Ravine against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Denorfia racked up a season-high three hits in his six at-bats with a double, a stolen base and two runs scored. On Wednesday Deno homered against Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw and the tweets began:
Chris Denorfia has a lot to offer any team in MLB. Having already spent two year stints with the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics, the seasoned Italian American is now in his fourth season with the Padres. Should Chris Denorfia be given the opportunity to become an everyday player in the San Diego lineup, he
has the tools not only to become a National League All-Star but also a 2013 Gold Glove Award winner.
In the final installment of the Top 40 Americans in the ABL series, we now feature the very best import players (#1-10) hailing from the U.S.A. It has been a rewarding experience interacting with players, coaches, scouts, front office staff, media representatives and baseball fans to put together this rather ambitious undertaking. Congratulations to 2013 ABL Champ Canberra Cavalry!
By clicking above, witness the resilience of Top 40 American in the ABL Honorable Mention Antonio Callaway and the thrilling comeback of 2013 ABL Champion Canberra Cavalry in the regular season against former MLB reliever Dae-Sung Koo of the Sydney Blue Sox. Special thanks to Canberra’s CHARGE TV for streaming live coverage all season long with
the excellent play-by-play commentary of ABC Grandstand’s “Strike Zone” host Chris Coleman and his team of supporters including Top American GM in the ABL Thom Carter.
#10 Brian Grening of the Canberra Cavalry has always kept MLB caliber talent close by his side. The former 2008 Cleveland Indians draft pick was teammates with ABL Triple Crown winner and recently signed San Diego Padres prospect Adam Buschini as well as St. Louis Cardinals prospect and Top 40 American in the ABL Adam Melker (#23) in 2007-08 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. More recently the 27-year-old Newport Beach, California native was teammates with fellow Cavalry pitchers and Top 40 Americans in the ABL Sean Toler (#32) and Dustin Loggins (#40) along with one-time Atlanta Braves/Kansas City Royals prospect Steve Kent while playing independent ball for the 2012 Kansas City T-Bones. As a starter in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball last year, he registered a career-high 113 strike outs–while picking up ten wins with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He was equally as impressive in the ABL last season, making 23 relief appearances and striking out 43 batters in 43.2 innings of work.
Flipped on @mlbnetwork and saw my old teammate Brian Grening dealing on the mound for the Canberra Calvary in the Australian Baseball League
In addition to his critical postseason victory in ABL Championship Series Game 1 against former two-time champ Perth Heat, the hard-throwing right-hander posted a 4-2 record in regular season action with a 2.87 ERA. The ABL Team World All-Star pitcher was a mentor for the slew of first-time American imports to Canberra. First-year Cavalry manager Michael Collins praised Grening for developing into the team’s top starting pitcher and taking on a leadership role with the club’s rookies. Collins said, “Brian’s been huge. He came here last year as a bit of everything. He came back strong and was our number one starter this year. He really led these new guys and was comfortable in everything he did.” Grening felt home field advantage with the Canberra fans suffocated Perth’s chances of a Heat three-peat. He said, “When you get it on, the place erupts, it makes you feel like you’re on top of them. It’s way more detrimental to the other team when the whole place is right on top of you, so awesome crowd, the best I’ve ever seen in Australia,
best fans in the ABL…”
Upon the recommendation of Sydney Blue Sox recruiter and ex-Minnesota Twins third baseman Glenn Williams–who was was inducted in the Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame and won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens–#9 James Robbins from
the Detroit Tigers Single-A Advanced affiliate Lakeland Flying Tigers was summoned to play in New South Wale’s capital city. He was the most prized and highly-touted player of Sydney’s five American imports, including Top 40 Americans in the ABL J.D Williams (#29) and Tyler Herr (#23) as well as Zach Penprase (#20) and Geoff Klein (#13).
Thank you to everyone in Australia! You guys were awesome! So much support! We all loved our time here! Thank you for the hospitality!
Robbins, alongside former Sydney Blue Sox and 2012 Top 20 American in the ABL Tyler Collins (#9), led Lakeland to a Florida State League Championship after appearing in 124 games last year. The left-handed hitting DH and first baseman made his pro debut at 18 when he played for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers and was ranked the 29th best prospect in the Tigers organization by Baseball America. A 30th round pick by Detroit in the 2009 draft out of Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Washington, the 22-year-old was third for Sydney in batting average (.298), slugging (.461) and RBI (26).
#8 Jack Murphy of the Canberra Cavalry was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 31st round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Excellent behind the plate, the 24-year-old Sarasota, Florida-born catcher possesses a .993 fielding percentage (better than any catcher in the MLB Hall of Fame). Throwing out 29 of 76 baserunners (38%) while finding his power stroke and hitting 10 home runs in 2012 at Single-A Advanced Dunedin, Murphy had a breakout season prior to joining the Canberra Cavalry. He caught fire against the Melbourne Aces in ABL Round Four action–during which he went 9-for-17 with a home run, a double and five RBI–and was subsequently chosen to represent Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. Third on the 2012-13 Cavalry staff in doubles (11), home runs (5) and RBI (24), the Toronto Blue Jays prospect posted a respectable .304 batting average and a .480 slugging percentage.
#7 Michael Ohlman of the Perth Heat received a $995,000 signing bonus after being chosen by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2009 draft out Florida’s Lakewood Ranch High School. Ohlman finished the 2012 season with the Single-A Delmarva on a roll. He batted .304 with 16 doubles, two home runs and 28 RBI in 51 games. He reached base in 47 of his 50 starts and led the team with a .411 on-base percentage. The MLB prospect will likely start 2013 at Single-A Advanced Frederick, where Perth teammates–Top American in the ABL Brenden Webb (#18) and Aussie Alan de San Miguel–played last year. Hoping to lead Perth to its third-straight ABL Championship title, the
22-year-old Ohlman and San Miguel split time between first base and catcher with the Heat. Having the best overall ABL campaign of the three Baltimore farmhands, Ohlman hit .317 with six home runs and 27 RBI in 43 regular season games and hit .467 in the postseason.
Wanted to thank the @perthheat family for welcoming me with open arms this year. I had the time of my life and hope to see everyone soon!
#6 Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry signed on with ACT Baseball club Tuggeranong Vikings after a try-out with the Arizona Diamondbacks aspiring to make it in the ABL and eventually to MLB. Cavalry manager Michael Collins learned of the 25-year-old Florida native in no time and officially added him to the Canberra roster after making an impression in the New Zealand national team exhibition series. It was the second time an import playing for a local club has made an instant impact for the Cavalry as fellow Top 40 American in the ABL Kody Hightower had been recruited by Canberra from the Ainslie-Gungahlin Bears in 2011. Originally selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 19th round of the 2009 draft out of Georgia’s Thomas University, he played for Single-A Advanced Wilmington Blue Rocks in two of his three seasons in the Royals organization before being delisted in 2011. Appearing in 80 games for the American Association of Independent Baseball 2012 Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Stovall was a very well-seasoned utility player who saw time at first, second, and third as well as all three outfield positions.
The Team World ABL All-Star was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks after a few weeks of ABL action. He was also named ABL Player of the Week for Round Nine during which time he led the league with the best batting average. While playing away against the Perth Heat, Stovall went 9-for-20 (.450) with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, and seven RBI. His off-the-charts performance spurred a big momentum swing for the Cavalry as they took three of four games from the league’s 2011 and 2012 Claxton Shield champions to move into clear sole possession of first place. While sporting a .320 batting average in the ABL, Stovall
was the leader in triples (4), runner-up in slugging percentage (.582), and third in runs (32). He was rewarded for his hard work in Australia and in indy ball by getting his contract purchased by a Major League Baseball franchise. “Ryan does a lot of good things on the baseball field,” said RedHawks manager Doug Simunic. “He can play all over the field, swings the bat well and is a plus runner. Hopefully he can go to Arizona and work his way up in their organization.”
Just turned on mlb network and first person I see on the Australian League championship @ryanstovall9
#5 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry is an unsung American hero, who after being disregarded by U.S. professional baseball retreated to the European leagues and has since been a fixture as one of the continent’s most adored and cherished elite superstar players. Here’s the lowdown on MLB’s MIA Kody Hightower. After being selected as a
NAIA All-America Honorable Mention at Brevard College in North Carolina, he was named to the 2008 Southern States Athletic All-Conference team, NAIA Region 13 team, and the NCCAA All-South team in addition to being an All-American and the NCCAA South Region Player of the Year in his final two seasons at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina. He posted a .427 batting average with six home runs, seven triples,
16 doubles, 61 runs scored and 64 RBI in 58 games during his 2008 collegiate campaign. Despite his stellar year, he was completely ignored in the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft.
The leadoff home run from Kody Hightower in the 1st inning of the ABL championship game clocked in at a brisk 20.62 secs. @ableague
Witness the speed of #5 Kody Hightower when he legs out this inside-the-park home run off #14 Anthony Claggett (of Top 40 Americans in the ABL fame) in 2013 ABL Championship Game 1 by clicking HERE and when he sprints around the bases after launching a leadoff homer off Detroit Tigers prospect Warwick Saupold in ABLCS Game 2 by clicking HERE.
Winner of the Cavalry ABL Fan Choice Award two years straight, Hightower ended the 2011-12 season with a .361 batting average (third in the ABL) and was equally as impressive this past season with a .325 batting average (fourth in the ABL). At the time he was named ABL Player of the Week for Round Seven, Canberra’s 27-year-old spark plug was leading
the Cavalry and the ABL with a .406 batting average. Igniting the league’s best offense–which finished nearly thirty points higher (.295 batting average) than second place Perth (.267 batting average), the Cavalry shortstop went 11-for-17 (.647) with two doubles, two home runs, three runs scored and six RBI in four games against the Melbourne Aces during ABL Round Seven competition.
Isn’t Virgil Vasquez great?! He’s thrown 3 straight scoreless innings. Bonomi coming up in the bottom of the 3rd #ZenMaster#ABLHeatCavalry
#4 Virgil Vasquez of the Perth Heat credits qigong–an ancient Chinese regimen of body, breath, and mental training exercises–for transforming his career and the reason for his second chance in the Bigs. “It’s an opening to find out more of who I am. With the qigong and the meditation, I’m just living life with a different attitude–without fear and trying to enjoy every moment,” said the Heat pitcher and recently signed Minnesota Twins minor leaguer. “It’s made me realize you never really know how you’re going to end up with the dream you hold in your mind. Just allow the path that you’re on to keep going and know that you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to be.” His path led him to Minnesota via Melbourne, where his zen-like pitching sent a renowned Twins scout into nirvana. Vasquez said, “The story is I was pitching in Melbourne. There’s a guy called Howie Norsetter over there who signed Luke Hughes and a few other Perth boys. He watched me pitch and liked what he saw. He turned my name in,
and it happened just a few days later.”
Starting for the Perth Heat in nine games, the ABL Team World All-Star hurler recorded four victories and 55 stikeouts in 61.2 innings of work with
a 2.77 ERA. Picked by the Detroit Tigers in the 7th round of the 2003 MLB draft out of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Southern Californian spent three years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut in 2007. After signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 and making seven starts, Vasquez was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. At Triple-A Durham, he went 6-2 with a 4.88 ERA in 12 starts. Signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the winter of 2010, Vasquez was subsequently released at 2011 Angels Spring Training. He pitched for the indy Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2012 before heading to Perth. Now in his 11th pro baseball season, the 30-year-old veteran hopes to start at Triple-A Rochester before gravitating toward his imminent return to MLB in Minnesota.
Hearing #Pirates in minor — very minor — trade talks with #Rays. Possibly Virgil Vasquez.
“You always hear there are scouts and
affiliated coaches in Australia. There’s
always people watching you, and that’s
what I’ve always known and told people.
No matter where you play, just go and play
and enjoy yourself and love the game. There’s
always someone watching you, so if you play
with Heat and play with passion, if it’s meant
to be, it’s meant to be. I’m very excited, it’s
been a long fun road and I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’ve just got to thank the Heat, the organization and especially my teammates.
They’ve been behind me all the way and
without them I can’t get any outs as they
make all the plays. Fish, Lloydy and all of
the guys, even my family back home as
well–it’s been a real privilege to be here.”
#3 Jeremy Barnes of the Canberra Cavalry was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 11th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The infielder spent four years in the minor leagues and reached as high as Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Former Cavalry manager Steve Schrenk, a pitching coach in the Phillies organization, recruited Barnes to play in the ABL and become Canberra’s third baseman after the Phillies released Barnes at the conclusion of the 2012 season. The Texas-born slugger’s stats were among the best in the ABL: 16 doubles (1st); 32 RBI, .423 on-base percentage and .989 on-base plus slugging (2nd); 57 hits, seven home runs, .343 batting average and .566 slugging (3rd). Barnes has focused on producing rather than worrying about being picked up by another MLB team. “I can hit .350, but if there’s no spots or no interest, I can’t control that,”
he said. “All I can do is put up numbers, and hopefully it happens. It can drive you crazy, but it’s all part of the business.”
Experience firsthand the power of ABL All-Star Jeremy Barnes‘ bat by clicking HERE.
Named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Rounds Seven and Nine, #2 Chris Smith of the Brisbane Bandits crushed hitters in Australia. The Kentucky native threw seven innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts on December 14th against the Adelaide Bite, and returned just two weeks later for a memorable encore performance by pitching a complete shutout with a new ABL record 15 strikeouts versus the Melbourne Aces. In his nine starts for the Brisbane Bandits, the 24-year-old right-hander had the ABL’s lowest WHIP (.85)–while posting a 3-3 record with a 2.31 ER and a 65:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50.2 innings. The former Kentucky Wesleyan College outfielder and closer set a Panther season record with eight saves during his senior year. Ranking in KWC’s all-time Top 10 in six pitching and hitting categories, Smith broke college records for most games played and starts (187). As a 2012 indy Frontier League Washington Wild Things starting pitcher, the Yankees prospect led the team in starts (19), wins (nine), innings pitched (129) and strikeouts (116).
Ironically, our top American in the ABL– #1 Adam Buschini of the Canberra Cavalry–was not named to Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. Yet, Buschini was awarded the first-ever ABL Triple Crown for his heroic 2012-13 ABL regular season. The Triple Crown–awarded to a player who has the highest batting average, the most home runs and driven in the most runs in a season–is one of the game’s rarities. The Triple Crown has only been achieved 16 times in over 130 years of MLB history. The 25-year-old Northern California-based slugger claimed the ABL Triple Crown with a .363 batting average, a league record-tying 15 homers, and an ABL record-breaking 50 RBI in just 45 games. He was named ABL Player of the Week twice. In ABL Round 10 action, Buschini went 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, three home runs and 9 RBI. As if that was not impressive enough, he exploded in ABL Round 13 when he went 9-for-15 (.600) with four homers and 9 RBI to help the Cavalry claim the top playoff spot.
See ABL Triple Crown Winner and #1 Adam Buschini in action by clicking HERE and HERE. Buschini was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In his final season for the Mustangs, Buschini hit .422–which is the school’s Division I record. He was a career .336 hitter in college from 2006-09 despite missing the 2008 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Canberra general manager Thom Carter said, “Here’s a kid who was drafted high in the fourth round by the Phillies, had some injury problems and got cut. He played two years of excellent independent ball, came out here hoping to get seen and was seen.” Recommended to the Padres by Canberra manager Michael Collins–a former Padres minor league catcher who manages the organization’s Dominican League and Arizona League teams–San Diego picked up the remaining three years of the contract Buschini originally signed with the Phillies in 2009. San Diego vice president of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said, “Quite frankly, he tore it up. He had very good numbers, runs well, is a good athlete. So we gave him a Spring Training invite. We’ll see what he can do.”
Thank you to all my teammates, coaches, and FANS from @canberracavalry. Had an amazing experience and loved my time down under. #CHARGE
With 14 years of Major League Baseball pitching experience under his belt, it was a no brainer for San Diego’s AA affiliate in San Antonio to call on Tim Worrell to fill the shoes of former Missions’ pitching coach Jimmy Jones, who was summoned to become the new Padres bullpen. Hired by the parent-club San Diego Padres in 2010, Worrell had been working in Peoria, Arizona with the organization’s players in extended spring training and on rehab assignment prior to reporting to the Texas League team. Having to leave his wife and six boys back home in Phoenix to take on pitching coach duties in San Antonio, it wouldn’t be long before Worrell would be adopted by his new baseball family of international pitchers led by Aussie Hayden Beard.
Hayden “Big Dog” Beard came off a strong 2011 campaign after pitching for Team Australia during
the Baseball World Cup in Panama as well as for
the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. During the 2011-12 Cavalry season, he earned himself ABL Player of the Week honours and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. Heading into 2012 Padres Spring Training Camp, Beard looked radiant and as confident as ever. After leading High-A Lake Elsinore Storm to a 2011 Cal League Championship, it was natural for the right-handed hurler to saddle up for a promotion to Double-A San Antonio Missions. Although there were a few bumps in the road during the seemingly rough ride, the Aussie pitcher finished strong with a 6-5 record in just over 119 innings of work. Starting in 19 games, Beard gave his team a chance to win every outing. However, he relished after the All-Star break in his 12 bullpen appearances during which his strikeout totals accelerated to 69.
We caught up with family man Tim Worrell in the San Antonio Missions’ dugout recently and discussed how Padres pitching prospect Hayden Beard’s best years may have yet to come.
Roberto: 27-year-old Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard is a late bloomer because he had to sit out for three years due to nerve damage in his arm. The Padres obviously have faith in him by sending him your way in Double-A San Antonio. Having said that you reached the prime of your career at age 31, do you see some parallels between the two of you in showing him that there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Tim Worrell: Yeah, sure. Again, I never try to tell these guys where their careers could finish at. I’d be a dummy to tell them that. First off, he’s got a great live arm and great movement on his pitches. Sometimes he struggles a little bit with control and that obviously puts us in trouble. When we’re behind in the count regularly, it puts the hitters in hitter’s counts. But he’s definitely starting to get some of these approaches knowing that is an area he needs to work on. And that in itself ends up helping to control some of the results that end up happening to us. (You) can’t always control them all, but it does put us in a better position. And he is still working on fine-tuning his game. It wasn’t long ago that we sped him up a little quicker to the plate without giving up quality of stuff so that he could hold runners on first better. So there are definitely physical things we need to do and he needs to do to make his game better. But a lot of it is just believing and trusting his stuff.
Roberto: Watching his roommate Miles Mikolas get the call-up to the Padres, rubbing shoulders with last year’s surprise in the San Diego bullpen, Erik Hamren, and this year’s sensation, Nick Vincent, must have been inspirational for Hayden with the realization that he could be next. Having watched him pitch in Australia and in Lake Elsinore, the fact remains is that Hayden Beard is a great competitor. Now that he is paired up with you in San Antonio, I think it’s an awesome combination. I’m really happy that you guys are really able to work together in developing his craft.
Tim Worrell: Yep. And you brought up probably his number one attribute and that’s his competitiveness, which is probably the most important thing. Because a true competitor never gives in. We have to remind ourselves at times maybe that we are that. But they don’t give in, and they are always looking to get better and always looking to get the job done.
When the 2008 Dirtbag reliever was called up to join the Padres in MLB in May, Nick Vincent became the 13th former Long Beach State ballplayer in the major leagues this season and the 42nd
in school history. Since the right-handed hurler was summoned, CSULB is once again on top for the most major leaguers from any college–an honor the team has held in 2010 and 2011.Getting to the big leagues for this determined 26-year-old resident of Ramona, a secluded town of 40,000 inhabitants in the foothills northeast of San Diego was a grind. Inspired by his father–who along with his brother–played catch with him at age five and later instilled a strong work ethic as a youth helping with the family business, Nick became Valley League Pitcher of the Year as a senior at Ramona High School and led the Bulldogs to the CIF San Diego Section Division III semi-finals. Vincent was granted a medical redshirt because of a strained right elbow in the first season of his long three-year commute to Palomar College in San Marcos. He learned the fine intricacies of the game and developed his craft before his journey north to Cal State Long Beach–where he transformed into the Dirtbag Stopper under pitching coach Troy Buckley.
With a perfect 4-0 record and a 1.75 ERA over 30.3 innings and 26 appearances in relief, Vincent was instrumental in Long Beach State Dirtbag’s 2008 Big West Championship. The San Diego Padres took notice and selected Nick Vincent in the 18th-round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Vincent spent the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons with Padres’ Single-A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore, where his 3.08 ERA in 2009 was nearly cut in half to a 1.59 ERA in 2010. The six footer was promoted in 2011 to Double-A San Antonio, where he appeared in a Missions’ club record 66 games and struck out 89 batters in 79.3 innings during the regular season. He was named to the Texas League All-Star team and led San Antonio to a Texas League Championship. Vincent was stellar in the 2011 playoffs, when he pitched six scoreless innings without giving up a walk and striking out 11. The California native made a strong case to make the Padres 2012 opening day roster after three spring training relief appearances, during which he didn’t allow a hit in three innings and struck out three. Instead, an ankle sprain kept him in Arizona for rehab and extended spring training. We spoke with Nick Vincent shortly after his May 18th call-up to MLB and his reassignment from Triple-A Tucson Padres to Double-A San Antonio, where he decided to abandon throwing out of the windup because it put too much pressure on his ankle. The results were remarkable as he went 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 9.6 innings of relief, ringing up 15 without issuing a walk. Since being called up
a fourth-time to the Padres this year, Vincent has been impressive in the bullpen by providing middle relief with a 2-0 record and a 1.83 ERA.
Padres manager Bud Black said of the reliever. “We like Nick’s stuff and he throws strikes. Nick knows his game. He throws a cutter and fastball to both sides of the plate. His game works. He’s just a little bit more consistent than some of the other guys that have come up. We like how he’s throwing the ball, we like his stuff.
He does a lot of things well.” A cordial and genuinely nice guy, Nick Vincent also has the positive disposition and outlook to make the new ownership of the San Diego Padres proud to see a local boy realize his dream in MLB.
Roberto: How are you feeling after being called up to the major leagues as a Padre? Nick Vincent: I feel pretty good. It was an unreal experience. I mean the first day I was just in awe. How it happened and all that. And then the second day I actually felt it like ’Wow, you’re in the big leagues. This is what it feels like’ kind of thing. When they told me that I was going back down, I wasn’t too surprised. But that feeling you get in your body from going from Tucson (AAA) to the big leagues is an unreal feeling. I don’t think I have ever felt that feeling before in my life. Roberto: How important was your college baseball experience in becoming a pro leaguer? Nick Vincent: I played down at Palomar Junior College down in San Marcos. Played there for three years. I got hurt my first year, and there is where I learned most of my baseball. From high school to that, I learned probably ten times from what I knew about baseball from high school. It was unreal, and then I just carried that on to Long Beach with my numbers and stuff. And just started pitching well out of the bullpen there. The main reason I went to Long Beach is because the pitching coach there: Troy Buckley. I mean he had the best ERA in 2004 or 2005 with (Jered) Weaver, (Neil) Jamison, (Abe) Alvarez…they had all these pitchers. And I talked with one of them, Neil Jameson, because he went to Ramona. He was like: ‘If you want to learn how to pitch, this guy knows his stuff.’ That was the main reason
I went there because I didn’t know if they were going to be a good team or not. I didn’t check into that, but I thought if I wanted to continue pitching then I’m going to go with the best pitching coach. Roberto: How good can it get to be pitching professionally where you grew up as a kid? Nick Vincent: I mean San Diego is all the way around probably the best city in California…just because of the weather. There is so much stuff to do. You go two hours, and you’re in the snow. You’re right by the beach. You can go fishing. You can go to the lakes. There is just so much stuff you can do around downtown. I mean you can’t really do that in LA. Roberto: How did your family react seeing you in a Padres uniform at PETCO on May 18th? Nick Vincent: My dad had bought like 80 tickets. I think he only gave out 50. But he ended up bringing the other ones back, and they reimbursed him for those tickets he didn’t use–so that was cool of the Padres. When I warmed up in the seventh inning, I got up to throw and the whole section right by the bullpen–that’s where he had bought all the tickets–erupted. Friends, family, from high school, my brother’s friends, other friends..it was pretty cool! Roberto: How have you coped with the pressures of staying up in the big leagues? Nick Vincent: I went up there and learned some stuff. I mean when you go up there when the game starts, it’s all business. There’s not too much messing around..none of that! So that was one of the biggest things I felt. Everyone is pretty serious..like every pitch. You’re watching every pitch. Nervousness…no matter what…that first inning you throw–you’re always going to be nervous no matter what. And as soon as you get through all of that…then that’s when everything will start cooling down. I mean I’m excited. I’ve got to get the ball down, keep pitching better. Be smart of what I ‘m throwing and get the ball down. I was up in Tucson (AAA), and I was leaving the ball up a lot so they told me I was coming down here (AA). You don’t pitch (well) there, you get moved down. That’s just how baseball is. Roberto: Is your cutter your best pitch? Nick Vincent: Yeah, I can throw my cutter to both sides of the plate. It has good late life. Roberto: Is it a dream come true getting drafted and playing Major League Baseball? Nick Vincent: I mean everyone who gets drafted…that’s where they hope their destiny is. But I mean you got to earn it. So for me I’ve got to come down here and throw strikes and get people out. I mean I would hope to get back there, but at the same time they are not going to be bring me back up if I’m not pitching good. So I’ve got to get back doing my thing, get people out and hopefully…I mean that’s where I want to be (in MLB). If I’m pitching good, that’s where I’ll be. But if I’m not pitching good, then I’ll be down here (in AA).Roberto: Have you always been a pitcher way back to your Little League days? Nick Vincent: In Little League and stuff, I pitched but not to be like good at it. I just did it because no one else could throw strikes. And I played outfield more back then. High school came along. The JV coach wanted me to be a pitcher so I went ‘okay’ and I started pitching then. Junior and senior year came along, and I just pitched. That’s all I did. So after that, pitching was the only thing that I could go to. Roberto: Is there a different mindset being a reliever than being a starting pitcher? Nick Vincent: Yeah, it’s a way different thing. You can’t be a reliever and go out there and try to start and have the same mentality because you’re not going to. You can’t go out there and throw an inning as hard you can and expect to be that good the next inning. So starting and relieving are two different things. I mean I started at junior college. I liked it. I started doing relief at Long Beach, and I liked that too. For me I think I would be more successful as a reliever out of the bullpen because you get that adrenaline going. And like for me, I want to go in with guys on base right after a starter and we’re like winning or something. And you just shut those guys down and don’t give in and take the momentum from the other team. Roberto: What kind of pre-game preparation and research on the opposition are you doing? Nick Vincent: I’m not really doing much. If you’ve only got two pitches. you’re going to throw those two pitches no matter what. Just because they can’t hit a change-up, you’re not going to start throwing change-ups because your change-up is not the same as everyone else’s change-up. For me I’m just going to go out there, and I just look where they’re at standing at the plate. I’m kind of studying them throughout the series, but
I mean it only takes one game to figure out what these guys can do, what they want to do with the ball. If the guy wants to go opposite field with it, then that’s where he’s going to hit the ball that way the whole time. And then you have to play the whole field. If the wind is blowing in this way, you can throw pitches that way. You got more chance for error. I just go up there, and I learn from where they’re standing in the box. I trust our catchers too. Our catchers are watching the game more than I am. So I trust them with their knowledge.Roberto: Are you paying much attention to baserunners when you are on the mound? Nick Vincent: Yeah, you’re always taking note that they are on base, but they’re not taking my concentration off the hitter at all. I mean I’m pretty quick to the plate so if they want to steal and take the chance of getting out…I’ll let the catcher do his job. I don’t throw many balls in the dirt. I’m more of a strike guy. If they want to chance it and run for second base, I’ll let them and let the catcher throw them out. I’m not really too worried about the guys on base. Roberto: How good of a hitter are you with the bat? Nick Vincent: I’m not good with the bat. I got one AB last year, and I struck out. When you haven’t hit since high school and you try to go out there, it’s coming like a 100 miles an hour. Or least that’s what it feels like. Roberto: If Bud Black calls on you to sacrifice, can you at least lay down a bunt? Nick Vincent: If I had to, I could get that down. Bunting off a machine is way different than bunting off a guy in a game. I know that… Roberto: Do you have any advice for young baseball players trying to make it in MLB? Nick Vincent: I mean just go out there and work hard. Prove people wrong, that’s what I’ve done my whole life. They always said I wasn’t going to get drafted because I was too small and didn’t throw hard enough and all that. So that just gives you fire kind of deal.
You go out there and let’s say you’re throwing 85, 86 and you’re getting people out—you’re getting people out! Baseball is a numbers game. Sooner or later they’re going to have to give you a chance. That’s all I have to get back to doing and see what happens from there. Roberto: Who were some the players that had the greatest influence on you as a pitcher? Nick Vincent: Back in the 90’s when it was Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, that starting rotation right there. It seemed like they were on TV every night. Watching them…what Maddox could do with ball, and then Smoltz throwing fastballs by people and Glavine had his change-up. That three starting line-up was like unreal. As a starting rotation, those were probably my favorite guys I liked to watch. Roberto: Thanks for your time today, and we look forward to seeing you back at PETCO! Nick Vincent: Thank you and have a good day.
Utility baseball player Dean Anna is the consummate leader.
A three-sport letterman in baseball, basketball and golf while attending Lincoln-Way East High School in Mokena, Illinois, he chose baseball at John A. Logan College in Carterville and was rewarded by being named All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference during his sophomore year after leading his team in home runs and breaking the school record for RBI. Dean Anna’s leadership continued as a junior transfer at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana–where he led the Cardinals in doubles, triples, walks and runs.The Padres took notice and selected the versatile five-foot-eleven right-handed fielder/left-handed batter in the 26th round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Since then the Midwesterner has proven worthy in the Padres minor leagues by catapulting his teams to three championship titles in Fort Wayne (2009), Lake Elsinore (2011) and San Antonio (2011). Having played in three 2012 Padres Spring Training games before being sent back to San Antonio to defend the reigning Texas League Champion Missions, super utilityman Dean Anna is making a difference in the team’s nightly do-or-die must win scenario to make the playoffs since six of the Missions’ remaining handful of games are against second-half leader Corpus Christi Hooks, who are ahead of San Antonio by nine games.
After speaking with Missions’ Dean Anna, we found him to be one of the most humble players in the dugout. His work ethic is unparalleled and his ‘never say die’ approach to the game is commendable. With the Missions needing their clutch player to step up and lead the team to the post-season, Dean Anna is more than capable to take on the role as captain. Batting .282 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI, Anna’s on-base percentage of .392 is among leaders in the entire Texas League. The 25-year-old prospect is certainly exciting to watch, and we expect to see him play his best baseball yet in his quest to help his team repeat.Roberto: I understand you have played every position on the field but catcher, correct? Dean Anna: The only catching I have done…caught a few bullpens. If the opportunity came, I think that I would have to catch. But I haven’t caught a pitch yet. Roberto: Would you like to try pitching professionally? Dean Anna: Yeah, I would love to actually. I have always wanted to try one inning or two just to see how it is out there. Make me feel like I was 10 again pitching. Roberto: How does playing second base differ from playing shortstop in regards to turning the double play? Dean Anna: Well, second baseman, there is three different turns, you know. Second base you got a drop step, you got a flip and then you got a side flip. So I mean you just really work on your craft, you know. At first it’s real difficult when you start at second base. Because I started at short(stop) all of my career, and I moved to second when I got to pro ball. And you know I thought it would be easy, but actually it was a little hard because of all the different type of turns for double plays from throwing it from shortstop. The drop step was different, the side flip was different and the underhand flip was different. And you use them in a different type of areas. So you really have to understand what area you’re in for what ball to throw, you know. So that was the big thing. Even to turn double plays when you’re on the bag…you know there’s a way of doing it that way. It seems to look easy but wherever the ball’s taking you–you have got to go to it. And you have got to be quick as possible and get out of there because that runner is getting on you fast. So that’s another thing you have got to have quick hands. Roberto: When has a baserunner crossed the line to intentionally cause you harm? Dean Anna: You know what? If a cleat hits you, you know they’re out of hand probably. But it’s hard to tell because you can’t see the runner sliding because you’re focusing on the ball thrown at you. So both of your eyes are following the ball. It’s impossible to look at the runner while the ball is in the air and catch it at the same time. So you’re just hoping, you know. You kind of have a clock in your head so you kind of know when the runner is coming to second base. So you know when to get out of there. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you forget the time of it and how fast the runner is getting on you. Roberto: How difficult is it to remain engaged in the game when you play nine innings night after night? After all, isn’t baseball a game that can change instantly with one single pitch? Dean Anna: Yeah, that’s how baseball is played. I mean every pitch matters, you know. There’s a situation on every different pitch. You have got to be on your toes. Sometimes if you are not ready for what that moment is going to bring to you it can cost your team a game, you know. So that’s a big part of baseball, just staying in the game the whole time and having that mental toughness–just knowing everything, what’s going on… Roberto: As an infielder, do you communicate with your outfielders on the field? Dean Anna: Yeah, you know, the right fielder and me (second baseman). We talk pretty much with every batter. We kind of know where we are going because I know if he is playing shallow or deep. Especially on guys, right-handed hitters, that maybe stay inside the ball well and hit the ball good to right field. We’ll know that he should be coming in a little shallow. So I kind of know that we’re not going to blow into each other, you know. The tough ones are when the ball is kind of sinks into center, like right center or left center. That means that you have all three players running at it. And that’s when it gets confusing, where the communication gets confusing. But with right field and second base, we’re okay out there. We kind of know where we’re staying. Roberto: Were you hurt being selected as a late round draft instead of an early pick? Dean Anna: No, you know, it didn’t bruise my ego at all. I was just happy to get the opportunity to play pro ball. That’s what I have always wanted to do. And you know I was going to give it my best, and I’m doing pretty good right now and stuff like that. I just wanted to have a chance, an opportunity that ‘s all you can ask for in life actually. So I’m just happy for that. Roberto: Are you ready to be called up to Major League Baseball by the Padres? Dean Anna: Yeah, I mean I’m definitely ready if they’re ready, you know. But I’m just playing ball and having fun. It’s day-by-day. I mean I have no control over any of that stuff. I wish I was a psychic. Yeah, that would be real nice. That’s fully out of my control. I just take it day-by-day. I play as hard as I can, and you know hopefully good things will happen.Roberto: Do you stay in touch with all of your teammates who have made it to MLB? Dean Anna: Oh yeah, we definitely do. I talk to a couple guys like (Blake) Tekkote, Miles (Mikolas), (James) Darnell. Those guys had a great time, they’re having fun up there. They said it’s an unbelievable experience, you know their first-time, their first game. Hopefully one day I can get the same feeling. Roberto: Are you prepared for all of the rookie pranks that go along with being in MLB? Dean Anna: Yeah, hey, if I can get to the big leagues they can prank me everyday (laughter). Yeah, I’ll be the prank guinea pig. I don’t care (laughter). Roberto: Do you think being five-foot-eleven and 180 pounds puts you at a disadvantage? Dean Anna: I mean the size for me…it doesn’t really matter. Honestly, I feel like it’s not like football or basketball where you have got to be 6’6”, you got to run a 4.2 forty. Baseball is such a mental game and if you can just read between the lines well. I mean a smart baseball player…that will make you look better. Just being a smart baseball player, I think plays a big role in all that. Roberto: Don’t you think that being a left-handed hitter has its advantages? Dean Anna: Yeah, that definitely helps a little bit for sure. Get down the line a little quicker. Roberto: Having only reached double digits in the stolen bases category early in your professional career, why don’t you steal more bases with the speed that you possess? Dean Anna: You know…I’m not a big steal guy, but I have real good anticipation like when the ball is hit. I can tell if the ball is going to drop or not without looking. Like I just know that I can probably get (from) first to third with a line drive and know that the fielder is not going to catch the ball. I just got good instincts. Roberto: Where did you pick up this talent? Did good coaching have anything to do with it? Dean Anna: Yeah, definitely great coaching helps out…you know. After a while, you just get a feel. You know how the ball sounds off the bat. You know where the ball’s going. You just kind of get a feel for the game when you play for a while and start getting a rhythm. You just kind of know.Roberto: Who did you used to follow before becoming a part of the Padres organization? Dean Anna: I’m a Midwest guy from the Chicago suburbs. My family is all diehard Cubbie fans. Yeah, it runs through our blood. Roberto: Do you have your suitcase ready to go if you get called up next month? Dean Anna: No, my bags are not packed. Honestly, I’m just taking it day-by-day. If that does comes…that opportunity…I would be so happy, you know. I’m just excited to see what happens. Roberto: Excited to get pranked? What has happened to you so far in the minor leagues? Dean Anna: When I was in High-A, everyone knows that I don’t like animals and stuff.
You know I’m kind of a city guy so I don’t like all the country stuff and all the fishing and stuff. One guy had a little snake and it was live. So he put it in my pocket in my locker,
right where my phone’s at. So I go to grab my phone, and this little snake pops out of my pocket. I did a back flip down on the floor. So then after that, I almost had a heart attack. And then I ‘m sitting, watching TV. I had my shirt tucked in and one of my teammates opens my shirt and puts the snake down my back. I went crazy! That was kind of funny… Roberto: With your fear of snakes, did you cringe when you learned that former teammate Miles Mikolas ate a live lizard in the Arizona Fall League bullpen? Dean Anna: I texted him that same day when I heard and asked him what he was thinking. He said it was funny and good protein intake. Roberto: What is your biggest baseball taboo? Dean Anna: I’m a big guy where I don’t want anyone to touch my baseball gloves. I don’t like anyone putting their hands in them. Roberto: Do you have a pre-game routine that you follow? Dean Anna: I like to really relax like for an hour. Get off my feet and just relax. Listen to my music. Calm down, you know, relax. Get mentally prepared for the game. Roberto: What about your routine at-bat and in-between pitches? Dean Anna: My ritual when I go up to bat…I always do my batting glove thing. Like every pitch I do this one batting glove, I tighten my left one up then my right one up. Then I touch the two outside corners of the home plate. Then I get ready to go. I feel like in baseball you’ve got to be consistent to move up. So everything I do I make sure to do the same way. Just because your brain works that way, you know. Your brain works like if you do the same thing it should trigger something. Roberto: The golden sombrero is not a good thing in baseball. Have you ever struck out
four times in the same game? Dean Anna: If I got the golden sombrero, I would change what I ate that day. Like if I had bad games, I make sure that whatever I ate that day…I wouldn’t eat it the next day. I make sure that I wouldn’t wear the same shoes to the field. Like I’m a superstitious guy a little bit. Just because this game makes you kind of like that.. But when I’m going good I’m eating the same food everyday. I’ll walk the same way. I’ll take the same path. Just because it’s just a mindset thing. Roberto: What is your personal professional best hitting streak to date? Dean Anna: I’ve recently had a nine-game hitting streak, and I just didn’t shave for nine days. So I was getting a little scruffy, and then it ended. I mean it didn’t get that bad, but
it was getting bad where people were asking ‘What are you doing?,’ you know. But I wish it could have gone a little longer. Roberto: Are you happy to have been part of the San Diego farm system? Dean Anna: The Padres organization is great, you know. I’m happy to be a part of them. Hopefully someday I can get up there and witness that. And have fun with that. It seems great. Everyone says it’s great. So it would be nice. I’ve been out there once when I was
in High-A Lake Elsinore. We actually went out for a game and everything was beautiful. Everything was so nice. Hopefully one day I can play there and get my chance. Roberto: Did you enjoy your time playing in the Midwest as a member of the Single-A
Fort Wayne TinCaps? Dean Anna: When I was at Fort Wayne, it was nice because I have family out there that way. So I saw my family a lot. Roberto: Did the humidity and heat in Indiana prepare you for the weather you are now experiencing this summer in the Texas League? Dean Anna: Nothing compares to San Antonio heat. Honestly, it’s very hot out here! Roberto: Sometimes do you flash back to the good old days in California playing for the
Lake Elsinore Storm when it’s over 100 degrees outside at game time in San Antonio? Dean Anna: Lake Elsinore was not bad at all. The thing that surprised me about Lake Elsinore is that it can get cold out there. I’ve never been out to California since I was in
the Cal League and that was last year. I couldn’t believe how cold is was in the beginning. Because I was like ‘California, is that place cold? Really?’ Roberto: Southern California weather is hard to beat. Wouldn’t you agree? Dean Anna: Yeah, yeah…it was nice, very nice! Roberto: How about the beautiful sights there? Now you truly understand what the
Beach Boys meant when they wrote ‘California Girls’? Dean Anna: (Smiling) Yeah, it makes sense! Roberto: Thanks for your time and sharing so much with us today. Dean Anna: It was a great interview. It was fun. It was great—thank you!
Although half of MLB.com Jonathan Mayo’s 2011 Top 10 Outfield Prospects have made their splash into Major League Baseball, the remaining five prospects–including former Boston Red Sox 2009 first-round draft pick and current Padres AA-affiliate San Antonio Missions leadoff hitter Reymond Fuentes–have yet to make their grandiose MLB debut despite possessing the five-tools necessary to become successful in the big leagues. Considered the “other” prospect San Diego received packaged with right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and a player to be named later (Eric Patterson) in exchange for trading Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in December 2010, the speedy 21-year-old Reymond Fuentes has the genetic makeup to break into the Bigs. Just ask his cousin, seven-time MLB All-Star/Puerto Rican philanthropist and baseball advocate Carlos Beltran. “I’m very proud of him,” Beltran said. “I believe he’s going to make it to the big leagues. I told him, ‘As hard as you’ve worked so far, you’re going to have to work double to get where you want to go.'” Upon hearing the news of Reymond being shipped out west, Beltran was concerned about his cousin’s reaction and called him immediately. He said, “Sometimes when you’re young and a team trades you, they think they don’t like him. So I told him, ‘Man, the best thing that happened to you was being able to get traded to San Diego because that organization is an organization that doesn’t have players on long-term deals. And if you put up a good year, you play hard, you can play in the big leagues as soon as possible.’”
Chosen to represent San Diego as a member of the World Team at the 2011 All-Star Futures Game as well as lead off for the Puerto Rican national team in the 2011 World Cup and Pan American Games, six-foot Reymond Fuentes is looked up to by many aspiring Caribbean ballplayers with the same dream. Having built the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in his native Puerto Rico to educate and nurture young athletes, cousin Carlos Beltran in the spirit of legend Roberto Clemente gives back generously to his people–especially when it comes to family. Carlos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to help him out. I work out with him in Puerto Rico, and I invite him to my house, and he’s there way early–so he’s hungry. For being so young, that really impressed me the most–more than his talent. Hopefully he lives up to that, and I can watch him play in the big leagues and maybe play against him one day.”
Part of Team World’s outfield with current MLB players Dayan Viciedo (Chicago White Sox) and Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirates) in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game, Reymond Fuentes was one of two prospects selected from the San Diego Padres organization. Named the Friar’s #13 prospect by MLB.com and rated the franchise’s best baserunner by Baseball America following a successful 2011 at Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore with 41 stolen bases, Fuentes has been the spark plug for the 2012 AA San Antonio Missions. We caught up with Fuentes recently in San Antonio at Wolff Stadium after the post-game fireworks, which the youthful Reymond kindly requested to watch before conducting the interview. Roberto: You look good having put on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason for additional power without compromising your lightning speed. With teammate Dean Anna having a great 2012 season and sometimes leading off, Missions’ manager John Gibbons has switched up the line-up and placed you in different slots. Do you care where you are placed in the line-up? Reymond Fuentes: Anything that
can help with the team win–I will just
do it. Just follow orders from my manager and just play the game that I love and know how to do. Roberto: As the Missions’ team leader for stolen bases on par for 30-plus in 2012, do you enjoy making the opposing pitcher worry about you when you are on the base paths? Reymond Fuentes: Why not?
I mean I do my role then they have
to do their role.
Roberto: Having an eagle eye vantage point of all the action on the field, do you like playing center field? Reymond Fuentes: Center field is awesome. My speed and my range help me a lot. It’s fun just to run down balls and get those hits off the other team. And get them angry a little bit…you know what I mean. It’s a lot of fun tracking balls and making those diving catches is the best! So I love center field, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else. Roberto: After being involved in the trade that allowed Boston to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego, was there any love lost when you had to say goodbye to Fenway? Reymond Fuentes: You know it
was really tough not to see my old teammates from Boston, but I mean being traded for Adrian is a huge step for me. I mean Adrian is an All-Star. He’s a great player. I think it’s a real honor to get traded for him and just join this team, play the game with the same attitude and effort in Boston here. Roberto: Please tell me about your deep family connections to Major League Baseball. Reymond Fuentes: Carlos Beltran is my mom’s cousin. We work out in the offseason everyday–hitting, fielding, throwing, catching. He’s a great guy. He taught me a lot on the field and off the field. He’s taught me a lot of stuff about life so I have to thank him. My dad used to play too. He’s been there since I was four years old. He was the first one who gave a bat to me and saw me swing. So I have to thank my dad for staying with me all this time and help me get where I am right now.
Roberto: How influential was the legendary Roberto Clemente growing up in Puerto Rico? Reymond Fuentes: Roberto Clemente, God rest his soul, was a terrific, all-time I don’t even know how to describe…he was a great player! A lot of little kids including me looked up to him because the way he played ball, the love he had for the game. It was unexplainable. I love to read his articles because I didn’t get to see him play. But everything I read about him is awesome, and he’s the best of Puerto Rico right now. I used to wear (Clemente’s) number 21 when I was a little kid. Then I couldn’t use it because of some rules in Puerto Rico when they retired his number. So I just decided to go with (number) 15 that Carlos used to wear. So I’m staying right there and just keeping everything within family, you know. Roberto: With reggaeton blowing up in Puerto Rico, I was surprised that you have a different genre represented in your walk-up song. Reymond Fuentes: Reggaeton is big in Puerto Rico, but right now I have a salsa—that’s old school music in Puerto Rico. I got this walk-up song from my dad. It’s my dad’s favorite song, and I’m using it right now. I think I’m going back to reggaeton because I mean it makes me move walking up to the plate and just makes me happy. Roberto: It be long before you make your MLB debut for the SD Padres. Reymond Fuentes: Thank you. That would be awesome. I’m looking forward to that every single day. Roberto: Would you like to be called up to MLB next month when the roster expands to 40? Reymond Fuentes: I would love that. I mean that’s my dream ever since I was a little kid.
I just can’t do anything else, but play my best ball here and just wait for that call. Roberto: Are you looking forward to facing cousin Carlos Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinals? Reymond Fuentes: You know what? If I face Carlos, I just want to rob two hits out of him with diving catches in center field. I would just call him the next day and say ‘Hey, you can’t hit it over there.’ Roberto: Thanks for taking time out for us today. Let’s chat again at PETCO in San Diego. Reymond Fuentes: Absolutely, I mean. It’s a great pleasure to speak with MLBforLife.com and I’ll do it anytime when I can.
Ex-Blue Jays manager John Gibbons or “Gibby”,
as he is affectionately known as by his players and coaches, lives up to the Urban Dictionary’s slang definition of “being an incredibly awesome person”. The 50-year-old former big league catcher was a first-round selection by the New York Mets in 1980 from MacArthur High School in San Antonio, Texas. Born in Great Falls, Montana and the son of a military veteran who was stationed at Brooks Air Force Base for 13 years, Gibby moved to San Antonio as a third grader and never looked back. As a youth baseball standout noticed by local fans and scouts alike, Gibbons and his father would attend Missions games at V.J. Keefe Stadium to watch Dodger minor leaguers Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Scioscia and Steve Sax. Currently home to the Double-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres and also MiLB’s Minor League Team of the Year in 2011 after winning 94 regular-season games and ultimatelycapturing the Texas League title–the San Antonio Missions now play at Wolff Stadium under first-year manager John Gibbons, who enjoys knowing his middle school son is nearby. Having spent the last three seasons as the Kansas City Royals’ bench coach, Gibbons has interviewed for recent managerial vacancies with the Mariners, Mets and Pirates but in the end remained close to home as the Missions’ skipper. For the one-time MLB manager, a well-traveled baseball mind for more than three decades, the move represented a decision as much about self as sacrifice goes since the San Antonio native and dedicated father need not give up quality family time.
Gibby assumed patriarch duties for possibly the best pitching rotations in Toronto history with Roy Halladay,
A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch, while juggling a starting line-up which included the likes of Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay and Shannon Stewart. The native Texan led Toronto for four-and-a-half seasons and is credited for putting together the third-highest win total in team history (behind Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox) compiling a 305-305 career record–including an 87-75 campaign in 2006 and a second-place finish in the AL East.
Gibbons spent seven seasons with the Blue Jays, serving as their bullpen catcher (2002), first-base coach (2002-04), interim manager (2004) and manager (2005-08). Gibby began his coaching career in 1991 as a roving minor league instructor for the New York Mets and spent a total of 12 seasons in the Mets organization (1991-2001) as an instructor, coach and manager. In his first managerial role in 1995, he guided the Kingsport Mets to the Appalachian League Championship with a 48-18 record and as a result was named 1995 Appalachian League Manager of the Year. Having led his teams to the playoffs four times and winning two championships in 1995 and 1996 with the Florida State League’s St. Lucie Mets, the accolades mounted during his seven-year managerial tenure in the Mets system. He was named the Eastern League Manager of the Year and the winner of the Casey Stengel Award as the Mets’ Minor League Manager of the Year in 1998 with Double-A Binghamton.
Recently named one of the 15 most controversial managers in MLB history, San Diego Padres Vice President of Player Development and International Operations Randy Smith believes hiring Gibbons as the San Antonio Missions Manager was “a no-brainer.” Smith said, “Everyone we talked to gave nothing put positive reviews,”–including positive feedback from one of the players Gibbons scuffled with while in Toronto. Smith declined to provide a name, but said the player “was very complimentary” of Gibbons. Smith commented, “A little fire and passion is not a bad thing. We think we got the right man for the job. It doesn’t hurt that he’s from San Antonio, either. That’s a real plus for the organization, to get someone with his experience. I think that we’re real fortunate to get John to lead that staff.”
San Diego Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes echoed the sentiment calling Gibbons “a great addition to our organization.” Byrnes said, “You get someone with his resume…it’s a shot in the arm for us. His knowledge, calmness and competitiveness have all proven to be standout qualities. We are lucky to have him.” If anyone could vouch for Gibbons’ temperament, it would have to be his long-time friend J.P. Ricciardi, who roomed with him when both were prospects in the New York Mets system during the early 80’s. After throwing in the towel of his professional baseball playing days, Ricciardi transitioned to the front office.Working as A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s special assistant when Oakland began to implement the “Moneyball” system of using statistical data to unearth hidden gems, Ricciardi was able to parlay his A’s Director of Player Personnel position under Beane into becoming the 2001 Toronto Blue Jays General Manager. He handed over the reigns of the Jays’ managerial job off to John Gibbons midseason in 2004 after Carlos Tosca was fired. Having built quite the reputation as a bulldog manager for his heated confrontations with players and umpires alike, the veteran MLB player and coach has received a bad rap for his aggressive passion for the game. Ricciardi adamantly denied suggestions that Gibbons has rage issues. “Is he a hot-head? No, not at all,” he said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.” Currently serving as special assistant to New York Mets General Manager (and former A’s boss pre-Billy Beane) Sandy Alderson–J.P. Ricciardi remains Gibby’s close friend.
Gibbons recently sat down and answered some questions prior to the All-Star break, at which time his San Antonio Missions were struggling and ended the first-half in the cellar of the Texas League South Standings. Since then, the Missions have regained last year’s championship form and are currently second in the division in the second-half. Roberto: How are you doing as the new manager for the San Antonio Missions? John Gibbons: Doing good. you know. We haven’t been playing particularly well, but everyday is a new day, and I always enjoy this group of kinds I have here. When you get a chance to come to the ballpark, make a living doing it, things aren’t all bad. Roberto: As a catcher, you were the New York Mets first-round selection of the June 1980 First-Year Player Draft after playing at San Antonio’s MacArthur High School and earning All-City and All-District honors. You played in 18 major league games between 1984-86 for the Mets and hit .220 (11-for-50) with four doubles, one home run, two RBI and five runs scored. Having Major League Baseball experience, do you believe that your minor league team benefits from your perspective both as manager and former player? John Gibbons: Well, what it does is you can relate to what these guys are going through.
I got drafted high, it wasn’t an easy career, it didn’t last forever. You know, I got there but I spent many years down in the minor leagues so I have been through everything these guys are going to go through. I always told myself that when I got into coaching to not forget how tough it was. It’s easy for me to relate to these guys. That 1980 year that I was drafted, the Mets had three first round drafts that year. Darryl Strawberry was number one, Billy Beane, the G.M. for the A’s was 23, and I was 24. So one went on to be a good player, the other went on to be a G.M. and the other one is a coach. So you never know where you are going to end up.Roberto: Playing home in Toronto as the manager of the Blue Jays, you were fortunate enough to stand twice as long in other ballparks for the playing of both national anthems. John Gibbons: Every night you would hear two. I enjoyed that, but it got to be a little bit long to be honest with you. You know, I loved my time in Toronto. Good people, it’s a lot like an American city, big city. They treated me very well, a majority of them… Some of the them thought, “Here’s a dumb Texan.” At the time, George Bush was in office. Up there a lot of them just liked him, so they tied the two of them together—it seemed like. But it was a lot of fun. I got a chance to manage in the major leagues, and it lasted for almost four years. It’s a thrill I will never forget. Roberto: Did you and your players have to undergo intensive questioning crossing borders? John Gibbons: One thing about it, if you’re involved in Major League Baseball, they know pretty much everything about you–just to get there. Even though you hear stories, people say that customs might be a nightmare. But it wasn’t that bad. We’d go through our own little building. They’d get us through customs pretty quick, and we’d just hop on our plane. So you know it could be a hassle sometimes. So I think one or two times we had to ever go through the major terminal like everyone else. And I remember it happened when we had to play the Baltimore Orioles, and maybe it was because we were flying so close to DC might have been the reason. But other than that, Toronto is a beautiful city and they really treated their people good. Roberto: With young MLB players like Ryan Dempster, Joey Votto and Brett Lawrie along with hot prospects James Paxton and Ryan Kellogg hailing from north of the border, are Canadians making an impact on baseball? John Gibbons: Oh yeah, one thing about those Canadian players that get into baseball—they are really good players! You look at guys like Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, you know what I mean….guys that make it..Jeff Francis, back years ago with Colorado. They’re pretty dog gone good, you know. It’s definitely a proud country. They’re hockey crazed up there… There’s no doubt about it, but they love their Blue Jays. They’re the only team left. They got one team representing the whole country. They’ve been starved for a winner for a while. They’re waiting for another one to come back.Roberto: How have you adapted your managerial style moving from the American to the National League? John Gibbons: It’s a totally different game. I got so used to it in the American League over there (in Toronto). You know, in the American League with the DH all you’re really worried about is handling the pitching staff. The game, the offense is what it is, you know. In the National League, a lot of things change, and the pitchers need to hit. It’s a different style of game. In the National League the game kind of dictates and forces you to make moves too…depending on the score, whether you have to get this guy out or pinch hit for him or what have you. So it’s definitely a different breed of baseball. I was fortunate enough to be in the American League East, which arguably and probably was the strongest division in baseball with some powerhouses, Yankees and Red Sox. So I have seen some pretty good line-ups.
I know one thing about this business, you know, pitching and defense win but you also have to be able to slug a little bit too. So it makes good fun. Roberto: As a young baseball player, did you ever imagine managing in MLB? John Gibbons: No, one thing I thought regardless of how my career was going to turn out I wanted to get into coaching some day–whether it be at the high school level, professional level. But at the beginning I never thought that I would set my sights on a major league managing job. Then I got a chance to go back to my original organization, the Mets, as a coach and was in their minor-leagues for a few years as a catching instructor. Then I got a chance to manage and really enjoyed it. Had some success with it and one thing led to another. An old roommate, teammate of mine, J.P. Ricciardi ended up getting the general manager job up there in Toronto, you know. He brought me on board. I was a roving coach there for a few years and then he made a few changes and he gave me a shot at managing. So it’s funny how things work out sometimes even things you don’t expect.Roberto: During the first-half of the Missions’ season many of your best prospects have been called up because of excellent play and the San Diego Padres’ MLB-leading disabled list. Do you think this may have cost your team the first-half? John Gibbons: You know, that’s the name of the game: to get these guys to the Big Leagues. Winning’s one thing, but also a lot of these guys are so young that we can’t lose sight of developing. The ultimate goal is to harness their skills so when they get to the big leagues they’re good all-around solid players. So we got to keep that in perspective.
A number of guys have moved up from this ball club this year, and by that happening it has taken it toll on the team here. But the bottom line is our goal of getting these guys out of here up to the next level and eventually on to the big league team. Roberto: Your reputation of shuffling line-ups in Toronto has followed you in San Antonio. Why have you switched around your leadoff hitters throughout the season? John Gibbons: Originally we started out the season with Jaff Decker as the leadoff guy because the big league team up in San Diego wanted to see him in that role because they pictured him maybe in the near future fitting that role. So we started that. He was little bit banged up, and he was struggling a little bit so we jumped Reymond Fuentes up there. He did a pretty solid job there, Ideally that’s what type of player he needs to become and eventually we think he will become. But with Dino (Dean) Anna now…Dino, he’s having a heck of year. He’s like second in the league in on-base percentage. He’s hitting over .300, and he’s really one of the tougher outs in the league. So we bumped him up there in that role to set the table for us. By doing that we just move Rey down to the nine spot, and it’s kind of like we have two leadoff hitters. He’s just further away down there at the bottom, but they both can fill that role for us very nicely. Right now Anna is playing so well, and he’s one of the better players in the league so he earns that spot. Roberto: Your six-foot-seven first baseman Nate Freiman is a power-hitting giant en route to a 30-plus home run season. What does the future hold for this young promising prospect? John Gibbons: I tell you what…this kid he keeps getting better and better and he’s got some kind of power. You know he’s the gentle giant (laughter), if you really want to term him correctly. Nate’s a special guy, and he’s having a tremendous year coming off a big year in (Single) A ball for us last year. It’s kind of refreshing, the kind of the individual he really is. He’s very respectful to individuals, the game. He’s always one of the guys who always does the right thing, you know. I hate to think where we would be right now without him. You know, we see him…he’s just going to get better, better and better. When you got that kind of ability with the bat, there’s no telling how far he’s going to go. Roberto: Recent Texas League All-Star and Home Run Derby Winner Nate Freiman is an octopus defensively who can handle just about anything hit or thrown in the infield. Have you any idea how many errors he has prevented while playing first base? John Gibbons: You know, it’s funny…as big as he is and that wingspan he’s got. We tell these infielders all the time: “Don’t bounce the ball over there. Hell, throw it as high as you want…he’s going to catch it. You’re getting your errors by bouncing them,” (laughter) which isn’t very smart—right? No, he really has done a tremendous job for us, you know. One thing about Nate, he shows up to work. He shows up to play everyday, and he’s definitely one of our leaders. Roberto: Any words of advice for those interested in career as a player or coach in MLB? John Gibbons: Well one thing you know to get on top of this business you have got to work hard. You have got to outwork the other guy. You got to hope for a break, There’s no doubt about it. It’s a tough road so you have got to be dedicated, and you have got to be willing to put in some years. You know, if you want it bad enough, go for it! As far as the coaching end of it, just do what an organization expects. Always try to do the right thing.
Be fair to your guys. The bottom line is we get the most out of these guys and then if you’re at the right place at the right time you might get a shot to manage in the major leagues. You never know…