Despite being labeled “The Rookie” for his his small size dating back to his childhood living across the street from Panama’s Omar Torrijos Herrera Stadium, Mets shortstop Rubén Tejada has big league intelligence and baseball embedded in his DNA. The Santiago de Veraguas native wants victory for his country. Host Panama battles neighboring Colombia, Brazil, and Nicaragua in the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier beginning November 15th at Panama City’s renovated Rod Carew Stadium. “The only reason we are here is to win and clinch a spot on the Classic,” Tejada said. “The main thing is move on to the Classic, and God willing, everything will go our way. I come with more experience, so hopefully everything will come out as planned.”The winners from the Panama and Taiwan qualifying pools will join Spain and Canada in the first round World Baseball Classic competition against Australia, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela March 7-10, 2013 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale. Proud to be representing his country again after showcasing his talent in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and having matured into an everyday player for the Mets, 23-year-old Rubén Tejada brings an innate understanding of the game which rivals that of a seasoned veteran or manager twice his age. However, his interpretation of the strike zone sometimes gets lost in translation. In young Rubén’s case, patience at the plate came with a price for the right-handed hitter, who until 2012 had struggled for playing time since making his MLB debut on April 7, 2010. With the strike zone in Panamanian youth leagues being bigger than it is in America, Tejada was trained to swing at pitches that would be called balls in the USA. With this international anomaly, he had
the tendency to swing early at-bat. At age 20, Tejada was the youngest position player on the Mets Opening Day roster since Tim Foli in 1971. Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens implemented a more disciplined approach to Tejada’s at-bats by making pitchers work. Since then, Rubén now works the count in search of his pitch. “He can hit,” said ex-Mets scout Ismael Cruz–who signed Tejada in 2006. “People don’t give him credit for hitting. He’s not flashy, he’s not making noise, but he’s a guy who can hit .270, .280. I’ll take that any day. And he’ll jack one every so often.” With a career-high 25 doubles, a .289 batting average and a .333 on-base percentage in 112 games played during the 2012 season, Rubén Tejada had a breakout year despite missing nearly six weeks in May and June with a strained groin muscle. Serving as the replacement for 2011 Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who took the the $10 million bait lured by the 2012 Miami Marlins, Tejada proved to be worth his weight in gold–earning a fraction of Reyes’ salary ($491,000). Perhaps what was most impressive about Tejada in 2012 was his defense. The 5-foot-11 Panamanian made spectacular web gem worthy plays and ironically finished the season with six fewer errors than Jose Reyes. The two former teammates remain best of friends and workout buddies. After the WBC Qualifier, Tejada will return to a Garden City, Long Island, New York training facility for his annual post-season pilgrimage with MLB All-Star Reyes. For now the business at hand is in Panama. “I’m very happy to be here, especially to be healthy and ready to do all that is needed to help the team,” said Tejada. “First we will try to win our pass, then we will start thinking about the 2013 Classic.”
Venice Beach’s Lizard King, an alter ego of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, imitated a Native American shaman. Since shamans identified strongly with an animal deity, Morrison chose the lizard because of its ability to reinvent itself by constantly shedding its skin and personified his deity by only wearing leather pants. Native cultures shaman guide followers through sacred ceremonies involving the ingestion of peyote to lead worshippers on a spiritual awakening of higher consciousness in the same way Morrison led his loyal audiences through a journey so that they may never think the same way again. Opting to skip the hallucinogens and make believers of those weak at heart in the Peoria Javelinas bullpen during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, new San Diego Padre relief pitcher Miles Mikolas turned Lizard King chose to square up on clubhouse dues by accepting the $250 dare bet wagered by fellow players and ingesting a Mountain Dew marinated cold-blooded reptile.
With nearly 10,000 hits on YouTube for his fearless antics in the bullpen, the six-foot-five Mikolas has quite a Alice Cooper cult following outside of baseball. Hoping to tone down his rock star status and keep the fear factor limited to hitters facing him on the mound, Mikolas said: “We were joking around in the bullpen and one thing led to another and there was some money on the line so … you know. I’m a little bit fearless. Even eating a lizard won’t turn me away. Hopefully, I can open their eyes a little bit more.” Although he has enjoyed his notoriety outside of the game for having no fear, the phone rang early Saturday morning at 6 am (Texas League time) to see just how much he could intimidate the slew of armed and dangerous hitters found daily on the Miami Marlins line-up card. Heralded as PadresProspects.com’s #25 prospect and not expected to make his MLB debut until late this season, the 23-year-old San Antonio Mission right-handed reliever received his call up from Double-A ball to the major leagues earlier than expected when Padre closer Huston Street was placed on the 15-day DL. Mikolas couldn’t have picked a more powerful slugger, the Paul Bunyan of professional baseball–Giancarlo Stanton–for his very first batter to face in his MLB debut on May 5, 2012 at PETCO Park.
With his hometown of Jupiter, Florida also being the home of the Marlins’ Spring Training, Miles Mikolas was beyond transcendental pitching against the team he cheered for as a youth. Miles said, “It was a great feeling being out there, especially against a team I grew up rooting for in South Florida as a Marlins fan. To be facing them was neat.” The rookie who had gained Lizard King notoriety for his fear factor ways in the bullpen would shed his skin on the mound in the ninth inning with the Padres trailing 3-1. With the count full on Giancarlo Stanton, the six-foot-five reliever served up a fastball he probably wishes that he could take back. Stanton answered by launching a moonshot off the left field third tier of the Western Metal Supply Company to give the Marlins a comfortable 4-1 lead. Mikolas can take solace in knowing he’s not the only pitcher to give up a home run to the 22-year-old Stanton, who has homered six times in the last nine games and is on pace to become the future all-time MLB home run record holder. “It’s good knowing that he is getting a little bit of everybody,” Miles said. “I’m not the only guy getting singled out.”With the top layer of the epidermis peeled off by Giancarlo’s baptism by fire, Mikolas was stripped to the raw core of his confidence and fought back. The remainder of his MLB debut was nearly textbook minus a walk to Gaby Sanchez. John Buck was shell-shocked staring at Mikolas’ Hammer, the epitome of a sharp-breaking curve, for strike three. Then Marlins starting pitcher Mark Buehrle laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Sanchez to second. Mikolas ended the inning on a high note by striking out last year’s National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes looking. Miles reflected and said,
“I settled down and made some really good pitches there toward the end. One bad pitch. Right after Stanton hit the home run I was like, ‘Well, you know, there it is. Welcome to the major leagues.'”
Mikolas made his encore appearance pitching in the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday, when he came in relief during the eighth inning and recorded the final out after issuing a walk. Prior to pitching in the Bigs, Mikolas was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in Double-A San Antonio. Padre manager Bud Black commented, “This spring, he threw the ball well.
I think that continued on there in San Antonio. Of all the guys that we looked at, he was the guy that our Minor League people said, ‘He’s the guy.'” The San Diego skipper has liked what he has seen so far from the rookie Mikolas. “That’s a big curveball,” Black said. “His challenge will be to get that in the strike zone. It has good rotation. You can combine that with a low-90s, mid-90s fastball. It’s a nice variation. It’s a nice difference of velocity. But the key is getting the breaking pitch in for a strike, because he’s got enough fastball. There’s no doubt about that.” A few weeks ago, Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard–Mikolas’ roommate at Double-A San Antonio–predicted weeks ago that Miles would be the first member of the Mission pitching staff to break into the Bigs. ‘The Big Dog’ Beard said, “I’m stoked for Miles. It couldn’t happen to a better bloke!” After Jupiter High School baseball, Mikolas played through his junior year at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)–where he ranked fourth all-time with 167 career strikeouts and fifth with 32 games started–before being the seventh round pick by San Diego in the 2009 draft. That year he was one of four NSU players drafted, three of whom have now appeared on a Major League 40-man roster–including Mikolas, J.D. Martinez (Astros) and Mike Fiers (Brewers). After converting from a starter to a reliever, Mikolas quickly moved up the Padres system to the Single-A affilate Fort Wayne TinCaps, where he would become a 2010 Midwest League All-Star after striking out 78 batters in 60 appearances.
The Southern Florida native last season split time between the Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions. He went a combined 4-0 with 21 saves and a 1.38 earned run average. Mikolas was dominant on the mound, striking out 69 in 72 innings of relief. Rumor has it that an unnamed Lake Elsinore Storm pitcher was betting everyone he could hit triple digits but could only hit 99 on the radar gun that year. However, the Lizard King of the bullpen has since touched 100 mph with a spike in velocity. The fearless pitcher and part-time shaman will change our way of thinking of the Padres’ winning ways by keeping hitters uneasy and off balance with his unrelentless heat and signature Mikolas Hammer.
At Coopers Stadium against the visiting Canberra Cavalry this past weekend, it was all about Chin-lung Hu–leadoff hitter and shortstop for the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League (ABL). Although there may have been a sour taste left in the mouths of Bite fans following Sunday’s 9-5 loss, one could not forget Hu’s team best 3-for-5 performance–including two runs batted in and one run scored. Never mind that Chin-lung Hu had been instrumental in the Bite’s victories the two prior nights against Canberra. Whether it be Saturday’s two-run triple in the bottom of the second inning which set up a 3-2 victory or Friday’s defensive excellence turning a pivotal double play late in the game with runners on the corners to stop the Calvary’s charge and seal up the win for Adelaide, Chin-lung Hu is now the ABL’s renaissance man.
Other than co-sharing his claim to fame for having MLB’s shortest last name in baseball history, Chin-lung Hu is best known (or rather unknown) as a bench player. Baseball fans today still ask the burning question: “Who is Hu?” Being in the shadow of 2011 MLB National League Batting Champion Mets shortstop Jose Reyes or playing back up to former Dodger and shortstop for the 2011 MLB World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals Rafael Furcal did not help his cause either. Chin-lung Hu appeared to always be at the wrong place at the wrong time and never got the time of day in the major leagues.
The Taiwanese-born Hu began his career in the Dodgers minor leagues in 2003 as a member of the Advance Rookie minor league Ogden Raptors. In 2004, he played for both the defunct Columbus Catfish and the Vero Beach Dodgers (now the Devil Rays). He remained in Vero Beach for the 2005 season and later moved on to the Jacksonville Suns in the Double-A Southern League. Things appeared to be progressing for Hu as the international baseball circle limelight shined on Hu for a brief period while a member of Chinese Taipei national team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Upon his return to America, he was promoted to the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s and then later made his 2007 Major League Debut in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform. Hu continued his elusive ways by playing hide-and-seek for another three years of multiple visits between Albuquerque with the Triple-A Isotopes and LA’s Chavez Ravine. Following the conclusion of the 2010 Dodgers season, Hu was traded to the New York Mets.
Enter the ABL to save Chin-lung Hu from international anonymity. Backed by Major League Baseball and the Australian Baseball Federation, the ABL is no stranger to world-class Asian baseball talent. In its inaugural season last year, the ABL hosted twelve Japanese players including big leaguers Itaru Hashimoto, Yoshiyuki Kamei and Norihito Kaneto with the Melbourne Aces, and Shuhei Fukuda and Hiroki Yamada with the Brisbane Bandits. Korean catcher Sung-Woo Jang, infielder Kyu-Hyun Moon and outfielder Seung-Hwa Lee thrilled fans while playing for the Canberra Cavalry. Perhaps most notable Korean player was Sydney Blue Sox pitcher Dae-Sung Koo, who won the League’s Reliever of the Year award after a brilliant season on the mound. With over three times as many players with Major League Baseball contracts participating than last season and a new influx of athletes from the world’s top baseball leagues, there has been vast improvement in the 2011-12 ABL level of play. Now is the time for Chin-lung Hu to step out of the darkness and into the light as an all-star starting shortstop for the ABL Adelaide Bite. Catch up on all the Australian Baseball League action at web.theabl.com.au