Sunday, February 28, 2010

Los Mets Al Sabor Venezolano

In keeping with the country of focus in the last post (Venezuela), I wanted to touch on the state of Latinos on the most Latino populated team in the Major Leagues: The New York Mets.

As spring training has begun for the 2010 Major League Season, the New York Mets have kept up with their nickname under GM Omar Minaya: Los Mets. Since Minaya took over the reins of GM in 2004, he has tapped into the Latino market by signing big named free agents Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran among many. This season is no different.

Though Minaya did not have a blockbuster Latino free agent signing this off-season, the Mets’ roster is full of Latino ballplayers. Let’s look at the Venezuela contingent.

Los Venezolanos (in clockwise order, photo property of the Topps Company)are made up of staff ace Johan Santana (Tovar, VZ), outfielder Fernando Nieve (Puerto Cabello), pitcher Kelvim Escobar (La Sabana), catcher Henry Blanco (Caracas) and closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez (Caracas). This marks the first time that five Venezuelans would be playing on the same team. Having Venezolanos on the roster for the Mets is not a rarity. Since their first Venezolano in 1962 (Elio Chacon), the Mets will have had 30 players from Venezuela on their rosters. The Latino presence is not limited to only Venezuela. The Mets have players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, as well as, players born in the United States of Latino descent.

Here is the list of potential Latinos on the Mets opening day roster:

Johan Santana (Venezuela)
Francisco Rodriguez (Venezuela)
Fernando Nieve (Venezuela)
Henry Blanco (Venezuela)
Kelvim Escobar (Venezuela)

Jose Reyes (Dominican Republic)
Anderson Hernandez (Dominican Republic)
Luis Castillo (Dominican Republic)
Fernando Martinez (Dominican Republic)
Fernando Tatis (Dominican Republic)

Carlos Beltran (Puerto Rico)
Pedro Feliciano (Puerto Rico)
Omir Santos (Puerto Rico)
Alex Cora (Puerto Rico)
Angel Pagan (Puerto Rico)

Oliver Perez (Mexico)
Arturo Lopez (Mexico)

Rod Barajas (California)

Even if half of these players don’t make the 25-man roster that would still leave the Mets with nine Latinos on the opening day roster. That would still be an impressive representation.

Que Viva Los Mets!!!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Luis Aparicio vs. Omar Vizquel

So the Chicago White Sox announced on Monday that they were un-retiring the #11 so that newly acquired SS Omar Vizquel can wear it this upcoming season (Click Here for the article on For those of you who don't know who #11 was retired to honor, the number honors the only major league Hall of Famer from Venezuela: Luis Aparicio.

Vizquel's original number was #13 but that number is currently being worn by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. That provides a bit of a predicament for Vizquel. Since he's playing on the same team that his country's only Hall of Famer played for Vizquel wanted to pay homage to Aparicio. So what started out as a thought to honor Aparicio, became the driving force behind the number un-retiring. With Aparicio's approval, Vizquel will wear the #11 this upcoming season with the Chisox. As Aparicio was quoted in a statement:

"If there is one player who I would like to see wear my uniform number with the White Sox, it is Omar Vizquel," said Aparicio in a statement. "I have known Omar for a long time. Along with being an outstanding player, he is a good and decent man."

Both players are shortstops who played in very much the same way. Since there will be comparisons on the statistics of both players, here I go adding my proverbial two cents.

Luis Aparicio played from 1956-1973 for the Chicago White Sox, the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. In those 18 seasons, Aparicio had a career batting average of .262 where he amassed 2677 hits (934 2B, 92 3B, 83 HR) and 791 RBI with 506 SB, of which Aparicio led the league 9 years in a row from 1956-1964 with his highest being 57 in 1964 with the Orioles. In terms of modern metrics, Aparicio had a career OBP% of .311 and a SLG% of .343 for an OPS of .633. Defensively, Aparicio had a career .972 fielding percentage and averaging 143.5 games per year.

Aparicio's best season was the season of 1959 with the American League Champion Chicago White Sox. Playing with the "Go-Go" White Sox, Aparicio was 2nd in the MVP race (behind teammate Nellie Fox and ahead of teammate Early Winn) where he hit .257 with 157 hits (18 2B, 5 3B, and 6 HR), 51 RBI and 56 SB. Aparicio was also an All-Star and Gold Glove winner that season. In total, Aparicio was the Rookie of the Year in 1956 with the Chicago White Sox a 10-time All-Star and a 9-time Gold Glove award winner. Aparicio was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

Omar Vizquel has been playing in the Major Leagues since 1989, having played for the Seattle Mariners, the Cleveland Indians, the San Francisco Giants, the Texas Rangers and now the Chicago White Sox. In the past 21 seasons, Vizquel has a career batting average of .273 where he amassed 2704 hits (473 2B, 74 3B, 78 HR) and 906 RBI with 389 SB. In terms of modern metrics, Vizquel has a career OBP% of .338 and a SLG% of .355 for an OPS of .693. Defensively, Vizquel has a career .985 fielding percentage.

Vizquel's best season was the season of 1999 with the American League Central Champion Cleveland Indians. Vizquel hit a career high .333 with 191 hits (36 2B, 4 3B, and 5 HR), 66 RBI and 42 SB. Vizquel was also an All-Star and Gold Glove winner that season. In total, Vizquel is a 3-time All-Star and an 11-time Gold Glove award winner.

Where Aparicio was the model of what a shortstop was to be like in his era, Vizquel played in the era of power hitting shortstops like Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garicaparra and Miguel Tejada. When Vizquel didn't measure up to those players in hitting, his defensive prowess could not be matched. At the age of 43, Vizquel will play a pivotal role by coming off the bench for fellow Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen this upcoming season. How long will he play? Who knows. Vizquel really shows no signs of slowing down. I guess his fellow infield partner and future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar will have to wait at least 6 more years before Omar Vizquel gets inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Here's another article on the number un-retiring from

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The First Latino Ivy-League Major Leaguer

As I'm attempting to write my Masters Thesis, I decide to write about the 1st Latino Ivy League major leaguer. Now, before I go into who this is, allow me to give some background information. Unlike many American baseball players that make their way up the ranks of Little League, Babe Ruth Ball, High School, College and eventually Pro ball. For some first and second generation Latino-Americans like Rafael Palmiero (Mississippi State University), Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez (minus college ball for Manny and A-Rod) this is the path that led him to baseball. Even early Latino baseball pioneer Luis Castro played college ball at Manhattan College before playing professionally (Click on his name to see the prior blog post about him). But they are the exception rather than the norm. Things are a little different for Latino ballplayers.

Since the majority of the Latino ballplayers come from the lower segments of society, they don't have the opportunities afforded to them like their American counterparts. Where in the past, many a Latino ballplayer like Juan Marichal played ball for a company team and later a military team, young ballplayers today throw their lot in with the baseball academies that are being built by Major League teams in places like the Dominican Republic. Out of the thousands of kids that tryout and eventually get in to the academies, only a small percentage ever make it to the Minors let alone the Majors. In being able to tap a market such as this, the players are not subjected to such mechanisms like the draft and can be signed to a minimal amount compared to players such as Stephen Strasberg of San Diego State University who received a $7.5 million dollar signing bonus as the #1 player drafted in 2009. I'm not saying that middle or upper middle class kids don't play college ball in their home countries and make the pros, it just benefits the Major Leagues financially to tap the market available to them from the lower class. It is a system that has come under fire in recent years due to scandals of kick-backs and bribes. So, now that I established that, allow me to introduce you to the 1st Latino Major Leaguer: Fernando Perez of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Perez was born on April 23, 1983 in Elizabeth, New Jersey playing different sports like many children tend to do in their early years. It was in attending the prestigous Peddie School in Hightown, New Jersey that he bacame a standout in baseball. Upon his graduation from the Peddie School, Perez attended Ivy League Institution Columbia University, where he majored in studied American studies and creative writing. (Photo Credit Getty Images)

Perez played a total of 3 years for the Columbia Lions. In his final year at Columbia, Perez hit .317, led the team with 18 stolen bases, legged out two triples and was a second-team All-Ivy League selection. He was selected by the Tempa Bay Rays in the 7th Round (195th Overall) of the 2004 MLB Draft while graduating with his degree in American Studies.

Perez spent 2004 with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York Penn League. In 69 games he stole 24 bases and scored 46 runs.

2005 saw Perez moving up the ranks and playing for the on the Single-A Southwest Michigan Devil Rays, now known as the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League earning player of the year honors by hitting .289, scoring 93 runs, hitting 17 doubles and 13 triples. In 2006, Perez was promoted to the upper level Single-A Visalia Oaks, (now the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League) of the California League. Perez earned MVP honors by hitting .307 and had a minor league-leading 123 runs scored, and stole 33 bases. In doing so, Perez had earned an invite to the major league spring training in 2007.

Though he did not make the big league club, he started the season at Double-A Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League where he had 121 hits, 84 runs, and a set the team's single-season record of 32 stolen bases.

In 2008, Perez was promoted to the Triple-A Durham Bulls of the International League where he batted .288 with 86 runs scored, 43 stolen bases and 11 triples. Perez ranked second in the International League in runs, was third in steals and tied for second in triples before his call up to the eventual American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays on September 1.

For the Rays in the stretch run, Perez hit .250 in 60 AB with 15 Hits (2 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR) 8 RBI and 5 SB to earn a spot on the post-season roster for the Rays. Perez started Game two of the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox and in total (ALDS, ALCA vs. Boston, and the WS against Philadelphia), Perez hit .111 with 1 hit in 9 at-bats and only 1 stolen base.

2009 saw Perez plagued by injuries (a dislocated left wrist in March and shoulder surgery in the offseason). He had .206 average ammasing only 34 at-bats with 7 hits and 2 RBI.

Whether or not he'll find much playing time on the Rays major league roster remains to be seen. Experts say he'll be ready in time for spring training. All I can say is that I'm proud that we Latinos have someone our kids can look up to. Someone who we can say "See this young man, he's proficient not only on the field of play but in the field of education". Through hard work and dedication anything can be achieved. Keep at it Fernando, we're pulling for you.

On a side note, Fernando is the only Major League to ever be published in Poetry Magazine, having done so in the September 2009 issue. To read the poem, click here.

Additional Links:
The New York Times article on Fernando Perez from October 4, 2008
The player page for Fernando Perez
The Fernando Perez statistics page from The Baseball Cube (AMAZING!!!)
An article on the Columbia Lions website from February 2007 on Fernando Perez
To read the journal kept by Fernando Perez in 2007 while with the Montgomery Biscuits, click here.