By John Philip Wyllie
Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves, but in the case of Chicago Cubs right-handed pitcher Sergio Mitre, it would be more accurate to say that he wears his feelings on his glove. Mitre, who grew up in San Ysidro, returned home last week to pitch against the San Diego Padres. He played his high school baseball at Montgomery High School and later went on to pitch for San Diego City College. When he took the mound for the Cubs Friday night he was wearing a glove with a Mexican flag woven into the strap. It is his way of celebrating his Mexican heritage.
“My parents are from Mexico and I am very proud of my race, so that is why I decided to have a Mexican flag on my glove. As a kid I played baseball in Mexico up until the time I (entered) high school.”
In high school, Mitre was primarily an outfielder that pitched occasionally. When he did it was often in the late innings as the Aztecs closer. It wasn’t until he enrolled at San Diego City College that he began to devote the bulk of his energy to pitching. Selected by the Cubs in the seventh round of the 2001 player draft, Mitre has bounced back and forth between the Cubs Minor League affiliates and the parent club during the last two years. A rash of injuries within the Cubs pitching staff this season including one to Mark Prior (who also hails from San Diego) has provided him this latest opportunity.
“I never met Mark until I came here to Chicago,” Mitre explained. “I knew who he was, but I never faced him or pitched against him in high school. When I arrived here, he helped me a little bit just like everybody else. A lot of our pitchers have been helpful. They have been here a lot longer and have had a lot of success, so you can learn from that.”
Mitre still lives in San Ysidro in the off-season and he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He sometimes works out with the current players from his old high school and he enjoys speaking to young players that hold the same dream that he is now living.
“In high school, Sergio was always a battler,” recalled his former coach, Manny Hermos-illo. “He played outfield mostly and sometimes first base. He was always a good hitter. After his junior year he got invited to the Area Code Games where they could see the value in him as a pitcher due to his size (currently 6-4” and 210 pounds) and his arm strength. He was a gamer and he always worked hard to become his best. Sergio joined our pitching staff as a senior and I remember that he pitched several good games and a no-hitter. He showed signs that he had the make-up to become a good pitcher. He really blossomed at (San Diego) City College and now he is in the show. He is only 24, so I see a good career ahead of him.”
“It is always fun to go back to where you came from,” Mitre said. “I’ve done a few public appearances where I have gone into schools and talked to the kids. It hasn’t been anything too big. I’ve just done a few favors for some people that I know.”
Pitching at Petco Park on June 3 in front of his friends and family was a special treat for Mitre even though the game resulted in a 6-2 loss for his Cubs.
“I had a little bit of my family and some friends in the stands the other night and that was exciting. It is always great to come back home to play. Having my family on hand made it all the more exciting.”
You couldn’t blame the 24-year old Mitre if he was a little bit in awe joining a pitching staff that includes future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, and All-Star selections Prior and Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. He is just happy to be a part of the team and hopes to make the most of this opportunity.
“I can’t think of anything negative about playing professional baseball. This is what I have always wanted to do ever since I was a little kid. The game is great and I love playing it, so other than being away from home a lot I have got no complaints whatsoever.”