By Ray Estrada
Vida en el Valle
America’s pastime has become América’s deporte. If you don’t agree, just take a look at the Opening Day rosters when the Major League Baseball season threw out its first pitch on April 1.
Names like Rodríguez, Delgado, Tejada, García and Martínez are as common as Bonds, Morneau, Howard and Kent. They have won batting titles, managed teams to a World Series title, been named most valuable player, and been the envy of fantasy league players.
These Latino beisboleros are more than pretty faces. They deliver.
Before you open a bag of sunflower seeds, grab a hot dog and your favorite beverage, we would like you to consider a pre-season, all-star baseball team of Latinos.
Resident expert, Ray Estrada, has spared no expense and brain cells in coming up with our fántastico dozen: eight position players, one designated hitter, two starting pitchers, and a reliever. Plus, we’ve thrown in a manager to guide this team.
While questions remain about veterans like slugger Sammy Sosa (Does he still have the ability to play at the Major League level with the Texas Rangers?) and New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodríguez (How can he continue to play in the Big Apple when he feels unwanted by fans?), there will be no shortage of Latino firepower this year.
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (Dominican Republic): Don’t let his oversized body (6-foot-4, 230 pounds ... easy on the third and fourth servings, big fella!) fool you. Big Papi can hit. He clobbered 54 home runs and drove in 137 runs last season. Expect similar numbers this season.
Albert Pujols, St. Lous Cardinals (Dominican Republic): Now that he became an American citizen during the off-season, don’t expect his statistics to go south this season. Pujols has averaged 45 homeruns and 125 RBI over the last three years. And, he’s only 27 years old!
Also considered: Carlos Delgado (Puerto Rico), who hit 38 homers for the New York Mets last season to bring his career total to 407; Nomar Garcíparra (Mexican American), who, if he can stay healthy, is likely to eclipse last year’s impressive .303 batting average, 20 homeruns and 93 RBI in just 122 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers; San Francisco Giant Rich Aurilia (Puerto Rican born in Brooklyn), who was limited by injuries last season but batted .300 with 23 homers and 70 RBI.
Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (Dominican Republic): On a team bursting with all-stars, Cano posted the second-highest batting aveage (.342) for a second-year Yankee. He added 31 doubles and 78 RBI in just 122 games. He’s no apprentice!
Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles (Dominican Republic): He may play on a lousy team, but his stats .330, 24 homeruns, 100 RBI continue to sparkle. Unless the Orioles learn how to win, Tejada’s attitude could be his downfall.
Also considered: Carlos Guillén (Venezuela) who helped turn the Detroit Tigers around last season with a .320 batting average, 41 doubles and 19 home runs.
Alex Rodríguez, New York Yankees (Puerto Rican born in New York): There’s plenty of drama in the Big Apple, and it’s not limited to Broadway. Rodríguez has been told by the front office that he won’t be getting a contract extension despite hitting .290 last season with 35 homers and 121 RBI. He was largely blamed for the Yankees’ demise in the playoffs after failing to hit well. The team owes him $50.7 million for the last three years of his contract with his former team, the Texas Rangers, assuming the remainder of the deal. With career totals of 464 homeruns and 1,347 RBI, the 31-year-old Rodríguez remains impressive.
Alphonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs (Dominican Republic): Matching last year’s impressive 46 home runs, 95 RBI and 41 stolen bases should be no problem for Soriano, who will play for his third team in three seasons.
Manny Ramírez, Boston Red Sox (Dominican Republic): The statistics are sparkling 35 home runs, 102 RBI and .321 batting average but folks could question if a 34-year-old Ramírez can still deliver. The answer: Yes.
Raúl Ibañez, Seattle Mariners (Puerto Rican born in New York): The 34-year-old veteran will be out to prove his 33 home runs and 123 RBI last season were no fluke. Expect him to deliver.
Víctor Martínez, Cleveland Indians (Venezuela): Entering his sixth season with the Indians, this 28-year-old switch hitter is very likely to improve on last year’s sweet stats of .316 batting average, 93 RBI, 37 doubles and 16 homers.
Also considered: Detroit Tigers’ Iván Rodríguez (Puerto Rico), if he stays healthy, will likely maintain his .304 career batting average and improve on his 13 home runs and 69 RBI he had in 136 games last season.
Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins (Venezuela): The 28-year-old lefty is among the best in the majors, having posted 67 wins in the last four seasons and striking out 245 last year when he was 19-6.
Also considered: Francisco Liriano (Dominican Republic) was 12-3 last season with Minnesota with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts.
Pedro Martínez, New York Mets (Dominican Republic): Last season was a down year for the 35-year-old Martínez, who went 9-8 with a 4.48 ERA during an injury-plagued season. Those are bad numbers compared to his career 206 wins, four straight 200-plus strikeout seasons and 2.81 career ERA. Expect Martínez to revive his career this season.
Also considered: Freddy García (Venezuela) won 17 games last season and has jumped to the Philadelphia Phillies. Vicente Padilla (Nicaragua) won 15 games last season for the Texas Rangers.
California’s Central Valley connection: Selma’s Matt Garza (Mexican American), 23, is one of Sports Illustrated’s top 10 rookies for 2007. He was 14-4 in three minor league seasons, but was 3-6 in 10 games for the Minnesota Twins last season.
Brian Fuentes, Colorado Rockies (Mexican American): The righthander from Merced, Calif. became the first reliever in club history to record consecutive 30-save seasons. He held opponents to a .209 batting average, which was the fourth-lowest among National League relievers.
Ozzie Guillen, Chicago White Sox (Venezuela): A former All-Star shortstop during his 16 years in the majors, Guillen is the most successful Latino manager on the bench this season with a World Series victory in 2005 and three American League Central Division championships since his managerial debut in 2004.