Tag Archive | "Puerto Rican"

Royals Winter League Wrap Up

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SPRINGDALE, AR –Although the 2012 minor league season officially ended in September, 20 current and former Northwest Arkansas Naturals continued their work on the diamond as they participated in the Puerto Rican, Venezuelan and Australian Winter Leagues. With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training in less than two weeks, all of the former Naturals have completed their winter seasons.

Puerto Rican League Wrap-up

The Puerto Rican League welcomed five Naturals alums, but a recent Natural created the most headlines. Christian Colon was named the Puerto Rican League Rookie of the Year. The Royals first round pick (fourth overall) in 2010, Colon led the league with 13 stolen bases in 39 games for the Leones de Ponce (Ponce Lions). While at the plate, Colon batted .301 with eight doubles and 26 runs scored. In 2012, Colon played in 73 games with the Naturals, batting .289 with nine doubles and 13 stolen bases and five home runs. A Texas League Mid-Season All-Star, Colon finished the season with Triple-A Omaha. Colon has earned a non-roster invite to Spring Training with the Royals.

Infielder Rey Navarro finished second in the league with a .333 batting average in 114 at-bats and 18 RBI for league champion Criollos de Caguas (Caguas Creoles).  In 2012, Navarro appeared in 109 games for the Naturals before being promoted to Omaha on August 18.

Infielder Irving Falu led the league with 30 runs scored and four triples while playing for Indios de Mayaguez (Mayaguez Indians). Falu batted .324 with eight doubles and 16 RBI in 36 games.  A member of the 2008 Naturals squad, Falu spent 2012 with both Kansas City and Omaha and is on the Royals 40-man roster.

Outfielder Geraldo Valentin, another member of the Naturals’ inaugural team, drove in 10 runs while batting .277 for Cangrejeros de Santurce (Santurce Crabbers). Valentin batted .250 with 10 doubles and 19 RBI in 70 games during his lone season with the Naturals.

Pitcher Kelvin Villa went 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in nine games for Criollos de Caguas. Villa was also named a Post-Season All-Star. Villa was 1-0 in nine appearances during his time with the Naturals in 2010.

Venezuelan League Wrap-up

2011 Naturals catcher Salvador Perez earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League as a member of Tiburones de La Guaira (La Guaira Sharks). Perez batted .371 in 32 games with eight home runs, 10 doubles and 39 RBI with a .412 On Base Percentage. As a Natural, Perez was named to the 2011 Texas League Mid and Post-Season All-Star teams. Perez, who missed the early part of the 2012 season due to injury, batted .301 in 76 games for Kansas City and is the projected starting catcher for the Royals for 2013.

Perez wasn’t the only former Natural to end the Venezuelan League campaign with an award, as Juan Gutierrez was named the Venezuelan League Relief Pitcher of the Year. Gutierrez was 1-1 with a 0.81 ERA, 14 saves and 21 strikeouts in 24 appearances for Leones del Caracas (Caracas Lions).  Gutierrez recorded three saves in five games with the Naturals in 2012 after reporting to the team in July following rehab outings in the Arizona League. Gutierrez has also spent parts of three seasons in the Major Leagues, each with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Outfielder Mario Lisson batted .262 with four doubles, five home runs and 26 RBI in 43 games with Navegantes del Magallanes (Magellen’s Navigators).  Lisson has worn the Naturals uniform in every season except 2010, and is the franchise leader in games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBI.

Paulo Orlando hit seven doubles and drove in 16 runs in 32 games with Cardenales de Lara (Lara Cardinals). Orlando’s .346 batting average would have finished second in the Venezuelan League, but Orlando didn’t have the required number of plate appearances. Orlando has spent the last three seasons with the Naturals and is the franchise leader with 18 triples.

Ernesto Mejia was named the Most Valuable Player for the Venezuelan League, batting .298 with 16 home runs and 48 RBI in 62 games as a member of Cardenales de Lara. An Opening Day starter and member of the 2010 Texas League Champion Naturals, Mejia spent 2012 in the Atlanta Braves organization at Triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.).

Pitcher Victor Marte was 2-1 with a 4.40 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13 games for Navegantes del Magallanes (Magellen’s Navigators). Marte was 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 13 games with the Naturals in 2009. Marte made his Royals debut that season, winning three of his 22 relief appearances.

Pitcher Dusty Hughes was 1-0 in 12 games for Navegantes del Magallanes. Hughes didn’t surrender a run in 9 1/3 innings pitched. Hughes was 5-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 20 games for the Naturals in 2008.

Dominican League Wrap-up

Catcher Julio Rodriguez appeared in one game for Gigantes del Cibao (Cibao Giants), striking out in his lone plate appearance. Rodriguez spent his first full AA season with the Naturals in 2012, with a .234 average and 17 RBI in 67 games.

Pitcher Sugar Ray Marimon pitched in two games with Leones del Escogido (Escogido Lions). In five innings of work, Marimon struck out two batters and surrendered one run. Marimon made 12 starts for the Naturals last season, posting a 3-6 record with a 4.59 ERA. Marimon was named a Carolina League Mid-Season All-Star in 2012.

Pitcher Carlos Rosa appeared in three games for league champion Gigantes del Cibao (Cibao Giants), giving up three earned runs in nine innings. Rosa went 4-2 with a 1.20 ERA in eight starts with the Naturals in 2008. Rosa pitched in two games for the Royals that season, giving up a run in 3 1/3 innings of work. Rosa’s last appearance in the Royals organization was with Triple-A Omaha in 2010.

Pitcher Roman Colon spent time in the Dominican League as a member of Gigantes as well as in the Mexican Pacific League with Yaquis de Obregon. Colon was 0-2 in 10 games with Gigantes and concluded the season with a 0-0 record in two appearances with three-time defending Mexican Pacific League champion Yaquis. Colon was 2-0 with a save in 10 games with the Naturals in 2008.

Pitcher Willy Lebron was 1-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 16 games for Estrellas de Oriente. Lebron was 3-1 with a 3.83 ERA in 23 games for the Naturals in 2011.

Outfielder Jamie Romak hit .280 in six games with Toros del Este (Este Bulls). Romak spent part of the 2010 season and all of the 2011 season with the Naturals, playing in 168 games with the franchise while hitting 29 home runs and driving in 87 runs. Romak spent the 2012 season with Triple-A Omaha and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Australian League Wrap-up

Outfielder Carlo Testa was the lone player with Naturals ties in the Land Down Under this winter. Testa played in 46 games for the Melbourne Aces, batting .294 with seven doubles and six home runs with 19 RBI. Testa also stole 10 bases for the Aces. In 2012, Testa completed his first season at the Double-A level with 16 doubles, 15 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 113 games.

Mexican Pacific League Wrap-up

Outfielder Cory Aldridge batted .268 with 19 home runs and 42 RBI in 61 games for Tomateros de Culican (Culican Tomato Growers). A member of the inaugural Naturals team, Aldridge batted .269 with six doubles and 10 home runs and 40 RBI in 49 games for the Naturals in 2008 and was named the Texas League Player of the Week for August 25.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale.  Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.

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Hispanic Heritage in KC: All-Time Hispanic Team

In a by-gone era, there was a bit of a perception from the outside looking in that the Kansas City Royals were a franchise opposed to minorities.

Black pitchers were essentially unheard of in Kansas City. But John Mayberry, Hal McRae, Frank White and Amos Otis, prominent black position players in the 1970s, more than made up for it.

Hispanics, on the other hand, played almost no role with the Royals for decades. Tracing the history of Mexican-born and Latin-born Royals makes for a short story.

So to make a Royals All-Star team of Hispanic players is difficult. But in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s worth a try.

The first problem was what to do with new members of the team Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar. Perez is already the greatest Hispanic catcher in team history. He has virtually no competition. But he’s not even played a full season in KC.

So for the sake of the exercise, the team will exclude current players who haven’t played at least two seasons for the Royals. And to keep it simple, the team will only include players born outside of the U.S.

Catcher: Perez will own this spot in no time. But the Royals first All Star was Puerto Rican Ellie Rodriguez. Someone had to make the All-Star Team in 1969. Why not a guy who hit just .236 with 2 homers in that inaugural season?

He gets the sentimental nod over Dominican Miguel Olivo, who hit 35 homers and had 106 RBIs while sharing the catching duties for two seasons. Olivo was probably a lot better than Rodriguez, but he never could unseat John Buck, which tells you something.

1B: Wow. Almost no options here at all. Tempting as it is to go with Orlando Cepeda based on his Cooperstown credentials, the truth is the Puerto Rican slugger did nothing in 33 games in KC, and played strictly DH.

The nod goes to… Mendy Lopez. The Dominican played a handful of games at firstbase in 2003, when he hit .277 with 3 homers.

2B: Lots of choices here, including some decent contributors like Jose Lind, Jose Offerman and Carlos Febles. But one of the most beloved Royals ever was Cuban Cookie Rojas. The diminutive, bespectacled Rojas made four trips to the All-Star Game for KC.

SS: The one position where the Royals have employed tons of Hispanics is shortstop. Alcides Escobar will claim this honor after this season. But before that there was a host of nightmarish options to choose from: Yuniesky Betancourt? Neifi Perez? Angel Berroa? Angel Salazar? Onix Concepcion?

I’ll go with Puerto Rican Rey Sanchez because he hit .294, .273, and .303 in his three seasons in KC.

3B: Two options here, which seem basically interchangeable. I’ll go with a tie: Dominican Wilson Betemit and Venezuelan Alberto Callaspo, who both hit reasonably while in KC.

Outfield: Not a lot of options here, surprisingly, so the choices are obvious. Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran is arguably the second greatest Royal in history, and has a chance to go into Cooperstown wearing a Royals cap.

Mexican Jorge Orta played four solid seasons and was a key contributor on the 1985 World Series champs. In that series, he reached first base safely (wink) on the most important play in team history.

And the third outfielder is Melky Cabrera, who rejuvenated his career in 2011. The Dominican hit .305, socked 18 homers, collected 201 hits and played solid defense in his one year in KC. Busted for PEDs in 2012, we may never know how legit those stats were, but it was a darn good season.

DH: Like it or not, Dominican Jose Guillen claims this spot. He belted 45 homers as one of the only power sources in the KC lineup from 2008 to 2010.

Starting Pitchers:

1), Hipolito Pichardo, Dominican Republic: 42-39, 4.48 ERA, 67 starts. Not many pitchers have a plus .500 win percentage recently. Pichardo has more wins than Luke Hochevar in half as many starts.

2) Bruce Chen, Panama: 35-32, 4.59 ERA. One rotten season (1-6, 5.78 ERA in 2009) sullies his otherwise solid numbers.

3) Luis Aquino, Puerto Rico: The first Hispanic pitcher to play a significant role, from 1988-92, Aquino made 55 starts over five seasons. His career mark is 22-19. He pitched in 114 games in KC.

4) Runelvys Hernandez, Dominican Republic: Hernandez was given every opportunity to succeed. But on some teams that had almost no other option, he still wore out his welcome. Hernandez posted a 25-33 mark in 78 starts before eating his way into early retirement.

5) The options are so bleak, Hernandez makes the rotation, but no one else is worthy of consideration. (Jose Rosado and D.J. Carasco are ineligible because they were born in the U.S.)

Relief Pitchers:

1) Joakim Soria, Mexico: Without a doubt the greatest Hispanic pitcher in Royals history. Soria’s160 career saves rank third in team history, and only arm injuries keep him from being one of the best relievers of his era.

2) Roberto Hernandez, Puerto Rico: The first Hispanic closer in team history. Hernandez notched 54 saves in two seasons, but was never really welcome in KC.

If minorities were discriminated against in some form or fashion in KC, hopefully that day has passed. Salvador Perez, and Alcides Escobar are getting every opportunity today, as Joakim Soria was before he was knocked out by an arm injury. The Royals have made more effort to sign Latin talent in the past few years, so hopefully more Hispanic players will bolster the current youth movement.

But as can be seen by this “All-Star Team,” the number of Hispanic stars in KC’s history is shockingly small. Not much history to celebrate in National Hispanic Heritage Month.

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Hispanic Heritage in KC: Rojas, Beltran and Not a Lot Else

If National Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized in Kauffman Stadium, it is a holiday without a lot of history.

In mid-July, the Royals hosted an event called “Viva Los Royals,” which as far as I can tell was not connected to any relevant date on the calendar.

But if the month (Sept 15 to Oct. 15) officially designated to recognize Americans of Hispanic heritage goes unrecognized by the Royals, that would only seem fitting considering their first 40 years or so.

The lack of Mexican- and Latin-born players in the history of the team is surprising. Given that history, the team’s recent emphasis on signing players from Latin America has added significance.

Throughout the team’s history, the number of Hispanic players at positions other than middle infield is amazingly small. But the lack of Hispanic pitchers to play a significant role on the team is downright shocking.

Nonetheless, in light of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and especially considering that Hispanics are starting to play greater roles for the Royals, the contributions of Mexican- and Latin-born players deserve to be heralded.

In the Beginning:

Interestingly, considering how few Hispanics have been stars in KC, the team’s first “star,” was Puerto Rican catcher Ellie Rodriguez. Rodriguez holds the honor of being the first Royal to play in an All Star Game, in 1969.

Rodriguez aside, the Royals first true star of Hispanic heritage was Cookie Rojas. Second only to Frank White in the history of Royals’ second basemen, the Cuban Rojas played eight years (1970-1977) in KC and earned four appearances in the All Star Game.

Rojas was so popular in KC, you would think there would have been other Hispanic stars to follow. But the Royals produced only one significant home-grown Hispanic player – Onix Concepcion – during the next decade and a half.

Concepcion, from Puerto Rico, was signed by KC in 1976 and developed in the farm system. He began sharing the shortstop role with UL Washington in 1980 and is one of a collection of players to play in both World Series for the Royals.

In the meantime, the Royals did play host to one of the greatest Latin-born players in history. In 1974, future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda tried to milk one more season out of his aging Puerto Rican body. But the experiment produced just a .215 average and one homer in 33 games from one of the best sluggers of his era.

A Hispanic player did contribute perhaps the most significant play in team history. Mexican Jorge Orta benefited from a dubious call of “safe” at first in the ninth inning of the sixth game of the 1985 World Series, a game KC eventually won en route to the championship. Orta played admirably, primarily as a DH, for the Royals from 1984-1987.

Hispanics man the middle:

Not surprisingly, the Royals have fielded a number of Hispanic second basemen and shortstops since Concepcion in 1985. Many of the names may induce nightmares for Royals fans:

Angel Salazar (Venezuela), Jose Lind (Puerto Rico), Felix Jose (Dominican Republic), Jose Offerman (Domincan Republic), Carlos Febles (Dominican Republic), Rey Sanchez (Puerto Rico), Neifi Perez (Dominican Republic), Angel Berroa (Dominican Republic), Tony Pena, Jr. (Dominican Republic) and Yuniesky Betancourt (Cuba).

Many were fine fielders, but none solidified the middle infield during the dark days in KC. Current Venezuelan shortstop Alcides Escobar looks to stop the madness.

Other than Concepcion, the Royals produced almost no Hispanic talent from their own system until Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran emerged from the minor leagues in 1998. He would become the greatest Hispanic player in team history, not to mention possibly the second greatest Royal of all time.

“Nosotros Creemos:”

One of the most significant moments in Royals history was when they hired Tony Pena, Sr. to manage the team in 2002. The rallying cry “Nosotros Creemos” (“We Believe”) unified the upstart Royals for a time, but ultimately the believers’ faith was misplaced. The Dominican Pena departed in 2005 without having attracted elite Latin talent to KC, and without having produced a consistent winner.

Where are the pitchers?:

Unbelievably, the team went 20 years before a Hispanic pitcher played a significant role. Finally from 1988 to 1992, Puerto Rican Luis Aquino cracked the staff, earning 55 starts and pitching in a total of 114 games. Aquino posted a 22-19 record as a Royal.

Next came Hipolito Pichardo, from the Domincan Republic, who pitched in 281 games from 1992 to 1998. He started 49 games in his first two seasons, then converted to the bullpen. He notched a 44-39 record, and also 19 saves.

Perhaps the greatest starting pitcher in team history of Hispanic descent was not actually born in Latin America. Jose Rosado was born in New Jersey, but joined the Royals by way of Puerto Rico. He went just 37-45 in 112 starts for KC from 1996 to 2000, but his solid role on the Royals’ staff earned him two invitations to the All Star Game. Sadly, injuries ended his career at age 25.

The first Hispanic closer in team history was Roberto Hernandez. The Puerto Rican came to KC in the much-maligned Johnny Damon trade. Hernandez did notch 54 saves, but was never able to earn much fan support.

During the 2000’s, guys like Jose Santiago, Runelvys Hernandez, Miguel Asencio combined for about 15 minutes of fame. Dominican Jose Lima’s self-proclaimed “Lima Time” had an even shorter duration.

Finally, in 2007, the greatest Hispanic pitcher to wear a Royals uniform arrived. Mexican Joakim Soria ranks as one of the greatest closers in the history of a team relatively rich in closers. Soria recorded 160 saves in just five seasons and hopes to add more if he can recover from arm surgery.

I-70 Celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month:

Considered the history of Hispanic heritage in Kansas City, it would be difficult to name an All-Time Team of Hispanic players. But it’s worth a try. That team will be forthcoming on I70baseball.com.

And as the Royals finish out the season with Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar providing some hope for the future, appreciate that the Royals are now a leader in Latin America when it comes to recruiting and developing young talent. Coming soon is a story celebrating Kansas City’s investment in Hispanic prospects.

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LOFFLIN: Hall Of Famers Spent Final Year In Royal Blue, Part 3

To read part 1 of this series, about Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, click here.

To read Part 2 of this series, about Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, click here.

You can sponsor a page about your favorite player at the encyclopedic Baseball Reference Web site. Olando Cepeda’s page is sponsored by the children of Rosalind Skoff. Their inscription reads:

“In memory of my mom, Rosalind Skoff, who spent the summer of ’67 yelling at the radio, “C’mon, CEPEDA!” and then he would get the winning hit each time. Of course, she would be in the next room, too nervous to listen. A great memory. A great season.”

Orlando CepedaIf only the summer of 1967 in St. Louis, Mo., were all you had to say about the life and times of Orlando Cepeda.

In 1967, he drove in the most runs of any player in the National League, 111, so it may well have seemed he always came through for Mrs. Skoff. He hit 25 home runs; 37 doubles; and contributed 183 hits in 563 at-bats, a .325 batting average, a .399 on-base percentage — third in the league — and a hefty .525 slugging percentage — fifth in the league. He was selected the Most Valuable Player in the National League and the Cardinals, for whom he toiled, won the World Series.

If only 1967 was the whole story.

But, of course, it isn’t. And, though it’s often ignored, the Kansas City Royals play a role in the less heroic but terribly human side of the tragic drama that was the Baby Bull’s career and his life after baseball.

Here are some of the facts of his Hall of Fame career. This is a paragraph from a United Press International story about him in the Lodi California New-Sentinel on Dec. 12, 1974. You can find some incarnation of this paragraph – or this paragraph itself – in a dozen stories, sweet and sour, about the Puerto Rican star who pounded out a hit in nearly one-third of his big league at-bats.

“Cepeda, a power-hitting first baseman, was the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1958 and the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1967. He had a career batting average of .297, with 379 home runs and 1,365 RBI during 18 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals.”

‘CARAMBA! Aparicio, Cepeda Cut by Bosox’: headline, Pittsburg Post-Gazette March 27, 1973

Orlando Cepeda’s appearance in Royal blue was brief. He was signed on Aug. 6, 1974, from Yucatan in the Mexican League. He was released Sept. 19, 1974. He was a shot in the dark at a desperate pennant chase, a designated hitter experiment in a time when sportswriters still placed “designated hitter” inside quote marks or explained DH inside parenthesis.

It’s hard, at this distance, to tell exactly why a career .297 hitter was knocking in runs in the Mexican League, where, by the way, he had four dingers and 16 RBI in just 70 at-bats. Cepeda’s troubles began in spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., with the Boston Red Sox.

1973 had been a wonderful year for the right handed power hitter. The Red Sox rode the Baby Bull to a second place finish in the American League East that year when he hit .289 on 159 hits and provided 20 homeruns to the potent Boston attack. He went into spring training the following year confident he had found a home in the designated hitter league, assured – he said – by new manager Darrell Johnson, of his position in the lineup.

But Johnson used him sparingly in the early going of the spring exhibition season and despite good numbers, his day in the manager’s office arrived unwelcome on March 26. Along with aging shortstop Luis Aparicio, he was given his outright release. UPI said, simply, Manager Johnson, “elected to go with younger players.”

“New Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson,” the UPI reported, “called in both veteran stars after an exhibition game to give them the bad news that could mean the end of the baseball trail for each.” Aparicio was to be replaced by Rick Burleson and Johnson planned to give Cecil Cooper a look at designated hitter. “Sore-legged Cepeda” was on the market.

And, apparently, forgotten.

Cepeda later said he was not only surprised to be released, but surprised not to latch on somewhere else. “I was surprised that nobody else wanted me,” he told the AP. “I talked to the New York Yankees, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox but I guess they thought I was making too much money.”

It’s just a guess, but the reason no one picked him up may have been his impolitic reaction to being released. While Aparicio was safely sanguine – “I’m not mad at anybody. Things like this have to come sooner or later,” – Cepeda was outraged.

“I’m really shocked and disappointed,” he told reporters at the time. “I really didn’t expect it because only a couple of weeks ago Johnson told me I was going to be his designated hitter. Somebody told me not to trust Johnson because he was two faced. I told him he didn’t want me right along, but he kept saying that was wrong. He didn’t play me too much down here because he didn’t want me to look too good.”

It’s true Johnson only used Cepeda in four games, and it’s true he had a home run, 5 RBI and hit .313 in those four games. It’s also true Cecil Cooper was hitting .400 when Cepeda was released. Johnson may also been thinking about the 24 times Cepeda grounded into doubleplays in 1973, leading the league in that rally-killing category. Cepeda saw it another way.

“It’s very difficult for me to figure out why he did what he did,” Cepeda told the Associated Press. “The only thing I can think of is he didn’t like me personally…. When he gave me the word, I told him I knew it was coming. I can’t explain it, but I just had a feeling.”

Ironically, Johnson gave Cepeda the word on a day in Winter Haven, Fla., when the Royals were in town, losing to the Red Sox 8-7 with Marty Pattin, Al Fitzmorris and Steve Mingori on the mound against the great El Tiante.

‘You could send him to the moon and he’d hit a line drive back down here …’ Amos Otis

When the future Hall of Famer arrived in Kansas City four months later optimism was everywhere. The Royals were in second place in the West, eight games behind Oakland and poised for a run. No one was more optimistic than Cepeda.

“With the Royals, I’ll just try to be myself and do what I’m capable of doing,” he told reporters. “This ball club can have a good winning streak. It can gain momentum. Eight games isn’t so far behind Oakland. I was with the Giants once they came from behind. It’s not impossible.”

Cepeda Brett

In 1999, Orlando Cepeda (left) was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Royals legend George Brett (right).

Amos Otis, in the midst of a career year, rhapsodized starward. “I know he can hit… he’s like Rico Carty,” the Royals centerfielder told the AP. “You could send him to the moon, and he’d hit a line drive back down here.”

Eight games is a lot to be behind Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue but when you want to see the silver lining, you see the silver lining, even on a rainy Tuesday night on the prairie. “The old pro, whose major league career appeared over until Kansas City rescued him from the Mexican League over the weekend, made his debut with the Royals Tuesday night and hit two singles and drove in two runs in a 17-3 breeze past the Minnesota Twins,” an AP reporter declaimed.

“I realized tonight this is the only place to be… in the big leagues,” he said. “When you’ve been in the Mexican League, you know that’s true.”

Cepeda wasn’t the only one seeing the ball well in Kansas City that Tuesday night. The Royals racked up 20 hits and five walks, Cookie Rojas was 3 for 4, Frank White 1 for 2, Otis 2 for 4 with a home run, George Brett – hitting eighth – was 3 for 5 and catcher Fran Healy was 3 for 5.

Jack McKeon, his new manager, thought Aug. 6 “a great debut” and hoped his club could get a psychological lift from Cepeda. Get four or five games under his belt and see what he does, McKeon said. After beating up on the twins McKeon could see nothing but silver in the night sky. “The race in the AL West?” he asked. “We’re seven games behind Oakland, five in the loss column.” Apparently, he meant this to be positive.

Well, the next five games did give the Royals reason to hope. Between August 6 and August 14, McKeon’s club won eight and lost only two. On the night they trounced Minnesota, the Texas Rangers’ Ferguson Jenkins shut out Oakland on two hits for his 15th win. Blue Moon Odom gave up only one run, but lost. Worse, Oakland left Vida Blue in Minneapolis, hospitalized with chest pains. And, on the Royal’s side, Hal McRae was batting .306, seventh in the league; Otis was second in the league in triples and sixth in doubles; John Mayberry was fourth in the league in homeruns with 19; Fred Patek was fifth in stolen bases with 25; and Steve Busby was fourth in pitching at 16-9.

Across his first five games with the Royals, Cepeda had seven hits in 23 trips to the plate and drove in 10 runs.

With the streak was in full bloom, McKeon was overjoyed about the club’s Mexican League signing.

“I’d like to go back to May in the season – with Cepeda,” he told the AP, adding with Cepeda in the lineup across the first four months, Oakland would be chasing Kansas City. “We started this hitting spree the day Cepeda got here… I think getting Cepeda was a psychological lift. We weren’t getting the key hits, and this guy comes along and shows us how.”

McKeon’s club won both ends of a doubleheader against the Angels the Sunday before Cepeda’s debut with an off-day Monday. They beat the Twins again Wednesday but lost Thursday. Milwaukee came to town and they took three in a row, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They lost in Detroit Monday but won the next two behind Fitzmorris and Busby. They lost Friday in Baltimore, won Saturday and lost Sunday… and the streak, and the season, was over.

The Royals closed the season with just 14 wins against 31 loses, including an 8-game losing streak, followed by a win, and a 7-game losing streak. When the fog cleared only the Angels had a worse record in the American League West. The optimism of being “just” seven games back of Oakland was buried 13 games out of first behind a 77 win – 85 loss season. With Orlando Cepeda in the lineup, the Royals plummeted from second place to fifth place.

And Cepeda plummeted with them. He had just 16 more hits in the remaining 28 games and he drove in only eight more runs. He ended the 1974 season batting just .215, 82 points below his career average.

‘…all my plans went down the drain…’

As bad as the last month of the 1974 baseball season was for the Kansas City Royals, the next three years of Orlando Cepeda’s life were exponentially worse. When he left baseball, he was, apparently, broke. And, naturally, he was in tax trouble. It’s a good guess, given what transpired, he had a drug problem.

Because, 15 months after he retired from the Royals, drugs did become a major problem for Mr. Cepeda.

On Dec. 12, 1975, at about 10 a.m., Cepeda and a long-time friend, Herminio Cortes, parked Cepeda’s Mercedes and Cortes’ Chevy at the San Juan International Airport freight terminal. They went inside and picked up two cartons and two suitcases bound from Colombia packed with 165 pounds of marijuana and loaded them in their trunks. Right behind them were three customs agents.

The morning ended with Cepeda and Cortes, who played in the Puerto Rican League, led away in handcuffs to the federal court building. Cepeda was later placed under house arrest, given the weekend to raise $5,000 — 10 percent of his $50,000 bond –, $2,000 more than the value placed on the marijuana the two men were charged with importing for sale. Wire reports described Cepeda as appearing “extremely nervous” when he walked into the courthouse. The Associated Press reported a friend of Cepeda and a former major league ballplayer, who asked not to be identified, agreed to raise the bail.

“I am not a rich man so I cannot be out of that amount of money for too long,” he told the AP, “but I am willing to lend it for a few days.”

A year later, Dec. 3, 1976, a jury deliberated seven hours before returning a guilty verdict against Cepeda. On Dec. 16, he was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000.

During the four-day trial, Cepeda maintained his innocence, even taking the witness stand to answer questions. He argued he had been tricked into taking possession of the boxes. He thought they had baseball equipment in them, he said. He did not need money, he said. However, a treasury department employee testified Cepeda had not paid state taxes for three years.

“What really hurts me is that this was in my own island,” he told the AP after the trial.

By June 29, 1980, he was a free man and back in baseball, having spent 10 months in a minimum security jail on the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. When he emerged from prison, he was a little more careful with the press than he had been seven years earlier when the Boston Red Sox sent him packing. But only slightly. “I had a lot of friends before I went to prison,” he told the AP. “But now I don’t have so many friends.”

Then he went for the upbeat. “The ones I have… they are what America’s all about… America showed me a lot; it’s a lot like me, actually. I’m sympathetic to the underdog, the guy who’s down. He’s the man who can really sue help… It wouldn’t do any good to talk bad about Puerto Rico. It’s over with. I love my country and I always will.”

From there, Cepeda set about resurrecting his baseball resume. He became a hitting instructor for the Phillies then the White Sox. “I never thought I’d be back in baseball,” he said in the AP article. “When I retired I wanted to set up a health spa in Puerto Rico. But all my plans went down the drain.

“This is my life. This is where I feel free and relaxed. This is where I want to be forever. When I die, I hope I’m on a baseball field.”

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