By John Philip Wyllie
In 2002, the Detroit Tigers selected fire balling right-handed relief pitcher Joel Zumaya in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball Draft. Last year, with his blazing 100 + MPH fastball, Zumaya drew a lot of attention and was a major contributor to the Tigers American League championship team. With Zumaya’s younger brother Richard still available in the 43rd round of this year’s baseball lottery, the Tigers just couldn’t pass him up.
“I think Richard has been a better all-around player than his brother was (in high school),” said Bonita Vista High coach, Vincent Gervais. “He’s a very good hitter and a very good defensive ball player. The Tigers drafted him as pitcher, but they may see that he can do other things for them. Drafting him as a right-handed pitcher is somewhat on the coattails of his brother, but I think Richard has the potential to blossom into a good corner infielder as well. If he gets that opportunity I think they will be very surprised.”
Young for his grade, Richard Zumaya is still growing. If he follows the same growth pattern of his brother, he could easily bulk up and pack more strength and muscle into that 6’2” frame. He is also still developing as a pitcher.
“Richard lived large this year on his curve ball and it was a very good one. He will learn in the next year how to trust his fastball and his change up. I think he will become a much more effective pitcher once he masters those pitches. It will allow him to pitch longer and deeper into games. The potential for him is great,” Gervais said.
On Friday, Zumaya graduated from Bonita Vista High. On Sunday he will be off to Detroit where he will begin the long and arduous road that he hopes will one day reunite him with his brother on the pitching staff of the Detroit Tigers.
“I’ll be working out every single day in the gym. I probably won’t play at all this year, but next year I will report to spring training with my brother. I’ll be living with him in Detroit for the next year.”
Having an older brother in the big leagues has literally opened some doors for Zum-aya. One of those is to the Tigers clubhouse where he has on several occasions, seen from the inside what it is like to be a Major League ball player. Having recently traveled the minor league road himself the Tigers set-up man has been both a sounding board and guide to his younger brother.
“My brother has told me that it is going to be tough and that I am going to have to work really hard. They don’t treat you like babies over there and they can release you at any time. He said that I can expect to get bullied a little being just 17 and going into the minor leagues. There will be older guys telling me that I got drafted because of my brother.”
Zumaya doesn’t know where this journey will eventually lead him, but he feels honored to have been drafted and eager to set out on what he knows will be a long and difficult road. One thing is certain. His famous brother will be helping him in any way that he can.