Jun 11, 2009 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Los buenos beisboleros
Chiefs bolstered by talented Hispanic ballplayers:
Ever since Luis Castro started turning double plays for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, Latin American ballplayers have added style and passion to the Great American Pastime.
Castro, a second baseman from Colombia, was the first of more than 1,335 Latinos who have plied their chosen trade in the major leagues. Now it’s estimated that each big-league roster features more than a half-dozen Latin-born players.
That means that most minor-league clubs, such as our own Syracuse Chiefs, also field plenty of players from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
In fact the D.R. has sent more players to the big leagues — 488 — than any other Latin nation, so many that a lot of American players simply refer to their Latin team-mates as “Dominicans.” So says Matt McCarthy, the Yale-educated author of Odd Man Out, a new book about his single season as a minor-league pitcher in the California Angels organization.
But Chiefs gringos shouldn’t make the same mistake.
Of the eight Latinos presently on the team’s roster, only one is Dominican, starting pitcher Jorge Bolivar Sosa, 32. Sosa has hurled for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals and the N.Y. Mets. In 2007, Sosa became the first Mets pitcher in team history to win six of his first seven starts.
But the team that’s surely dearest to his heart is the Tigres del Licey, the pride of the Dominican Winter League, also known as “El Glorioso.” Sosa pitched for Licey in 2008 when they won the Serie del Caribe. In his first start for Syracuse on May 24, Sosa worked six strong innings, striking out seven and walking none.
A host of other Dominicans have played for Syracuse this year and most have earned promotions to the parent Washington Nationals coached by the only Dominican manager in the majors, Manny Acta. Among the Dominican Chiefs to go up were reliever Jesus Colom (c), 31; infielder Alberto Gonzalez, 26; and infielder Anderson Hernandez, 26, another proud veteran of Tigres del Licey.
Three Venezuelans dot the Chiefs roster. Plucky utility fielder Marcos “Yeppy” Yepez, 27, has yet to play in the show, but catcher Gustavo Eduardo Molina, 27, has enjoyed cups of coffee with the Mets, White Sox and Orioles.
Pitcher Wilfredo Ledezma, 28, threw for the Detroit Tigers most of 2006 and now hopes to break back into Washington’s bullpen as a southpaw specialist.
Two native Puerto Ricans — one a pitcher, one a hitter — are helping keep the Chiefs in the International League pennant race. Fleet-footed outfielder Jorge Padilla leads the team with a .368 batting average. Padilla, who turns 30 on Aug. 11, rarely strikes out, bunts effectively, can hit for power and has stolen six bases so far this season. Last off-season Padilla was named Most Valuable Player of the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Padilla’s Puerto Rican pal, pitcher Saul Rivera, 31, was optioned to Syracuse on May 6. In 12 games here, he has notched an impressive 2.12 earned-run average and whiffed a dozen batters in 17 innings.
The sole Mexican on the Chiefs is right-handed starter Marco Estrada, who is 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA. He leads the staff with 45 strikeouts as compared to 16 walks over 56 innings. Estrada turns 26 on July 5.
The newest Latino to play for Syracuse is 24-year-old Colombian catcher Jhonatan Solano. On June 4, when he made his Triple-A debut with the Chiefs against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Solano slammed a home run that essentially won the game.
The Pawtucket Red Sox lace up their cleats at Alliance Bank Stadium for games against the Chiefs, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 11-13, and at 2 p.m. Sunday June 14. Former NL Cy Young Award-winning pitcher John Smoltz is scheduled to start for the Pawsox here on Thursday.
Then the Buffalo Bisons rumble in at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday June 15-16.
Ticket prices at ABS range between $4 and $10; parking costs $4 per vehicle; 474-7833; syracusechiefs.com.
IL’s only Latin Hall-of-Famer played here
The International League Hall of Fame has honored 80 men ranging from players like the late Hank Sauer to executives such as Chiefs longtime G.M. Tex Simone. Last year, when Simone was inducted, the league finally welcomed its first Latin American to the hall — first baseman Juan Francisco “Pancho” Herrera, who played for the Chiefs in 1955 and 1966.
Also known as Frank, the native of Santiago, Cuba was a three-time IL home-run champ and won the Triple Crown in 1959 when he hit .329, hit 37 homers and drove in 128 runs for Buffalo. He also played parts of three seasons with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies, 1958-61.
Herrera, who died in Miami in 2005 at age 7-0, was inducted posthumously into el IL Sal n de la Fama.