By John Philip Wyllie
Well traveled veteran pitcher and Tijuana native Esteban Loaiza has pitched for eight major leagues teams in a MLB career that began in 1995 with the Pittsburg Pirates. The two-time All-Star had his best seasons with the Chicago White Sox (’03-’04). That is where he was the runner-up for the ‘03 A.L. Cy Young Award after he delivered 21 victories and led the league in strikeouts with 207. Ironically, Loaiza, a 1990 Mar Vista High graduate, made a name for himself in high school behind the plate. His stellar play there led to his ’91 signing by the Mexico City Red Devils. Now a part of the Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation, he is happy to be playing closer to home. He has never forgotten his Mexican roots or the organization that launched his career.
“I am 100% for Mexico and 100% Mexican,” Loaiza said. “I would (someday) like to hang my shoes in Mexico City where I first got signed and then probably play for Los Potros. That’s where I played when I was 16 years old. They gave me the opportunity to start looking at professional ball.”
As a member of the Dodgers, Loaiza will get nine opportunities to visit Petco Park this season and Dodger Stadium is just a two and a half hour drive for friends and family members eager to see him. They were there on this day. After the game he was surrounded by a group well-wishers chatting in front of a downtown hotel. His family has been behind him from the beginning.
“Since the time when I was playing Little League my parents drove me all over San Diego and Tijuana to play. I grew up with baseball and was surrounded with baseball and I am still playing the game. They kept me on the right path staying strong and thinking positively. It has paid off. That is why I am where I am today.”
After an injury-plagued season a year ago that began in Oakland and ended with the Dodgers, Loaiza is feeling healthy again and his work on the mound has showed it.
“I feel healthy and strong. Last year was last year. I had a lot of injuries but they have been taken care of. I was rehabbing here in San Diego after the surgery on my right knee. I worked hard in the off-season hoping to come into spring training strong.”
With the injury jinx behind him he can now go to work on catching the legendary Fernando Valenzuela as the All-Time Mexican-born MLB win leader.
“I’m not thinking about that. I still have 50 more games to win and those 50 games will mean playing five more seasons with (an average of) 10 games under my belt (each year). My goal (this year) is to win more than 12 or 13 and hopefully get 15. If things go well I’ll be getting ready for the next season and keep adding on.”
Loaiza’s return late last season brought with it a whole new set of challenges.
“I’ve had to learn new hitters and new ball fields, but I am looking forward to playing in the National League and having success. I want to get my innings and give us the best chance possible to win and hopefully make it to the playoffs.”