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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Interview Part 1: Cesar Mejia, Paid Back

Cesar Mejia at East Field in Glens Falls in June 2014. Mejia pitched his best year as a pro in Glens Falls. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Paid Back | Part 2: Let's Go
Part 3: Little Things

GLENS FALLS, NY - After his first start at AA Glens Falls in 1988, Cesar Mejia recalled his manager John Wockenfuss taking him aside.

The start had been awful, he recalled. He only lasted two outs, giving up six or seven runs.

"He told me, 'Cesar, this is not the same pitcher that I saw your first game of spring training, or when you pitched against one of the best colleges in Florida,'" Mejia recalled to The Greatest 21 Days. "'That is not the pitcher I saw pitching many games against AAA clubs.'"

This was Mejia's first year in the Tigers organization. The club saw enough in him to take him in the minor league draft from the Blue Jays system.

From that talk with Wockenfuss, Mejia said he knew what he had to do.

"They put so much on myself that I say I have to pay back," Mejia said.

Mejia improved in his second outing. In his second outing of the year, at Glens Falls' East Field, Mejia paid back by throwing a no-hitter.
The 1988 Glens Falls Tigers team photo. Cesar Mejia is standing, fifth from the right. (Photo courtesy of the Glens Falls Area Baseball Society)
Mejia spoke with The Greatest 21 Days before a recent return to East Field and Glens Falls. Mejia returned to throw out the first pitch for a Glens Falls Golden Eagles collegiate league game at the place where he had his best season as a pro, the place where he won league Pitcher of the Year honors.

Mejia went on to a career that spanned six seasons in the United States, taking him to AAA and to Taiwan and Mexico. Slowed by injury, Mejia never made the majors.

He's since gone on to a career as an instructor in is native Dominican Republic, working with young pitchers for the Phillies for more than 15 years. More recently, he's taken time off from instructing to write a book and promote a new device he created called the MP Balancer that he designed to improve pitching mechanics.

Mejia was born in Azua, D.R., on the south coast of the baseball-mad country. Mejia grew up like almost every other kid in the country, he said, wanting to be a professional baseball player.

From Azua, Mejia's family moved to the capital of Santo Domingo. He also continued playing baseball, and playing it well.

Cesar Mejia, right, talks with Glens Falls pitcher Chas Lacko before a June 2014 game at East Field in Glens Falls, NY. (Photo courtesy of the Glens Falls Area Baseball Society)
Mejia had the opportunity to play with one of the best teams in the capital. He also got to play in front of scouts. After pitching one game, Mejia recalled one of those scouts coming up to him.

"He tell me 'Cesar, I believe you have the talent to be a baseball player," Mejia recalled.

The Blue Jays appeared to believe it, too, taking him in to try out at their Dominican academy. Another question seemed to get to Mejia's dedication to the game. "I say that's the sport that I love," Mejia said.

At the academy, Mejia was challenged right away. He recalled pitching against players who had already traveled to the United States to play ball. They were back in the Dominican Republic to continue their work.

Those players were the first test for incoming pitchers, he recalled. Mejia passed the test.

"He only asked me if I love the baseball, that's the only question he ask me," Mejia recalled of the Blue Jays scout. "He say after that, 'OK, you're becoming a member of the Blue Jays organization."
Back on the mound at East Field in 2014: Cesar Mejia had his best year as a pro in Glens Falls in 1988. (Photo courtesy of the Glens Falls Area Baseball Society)
Mejia was practically pinching himself.

"I was so excited that night," Mejia said. "I did not sleep for three days."

Mejia was sent to Florida relatively quickly, but not before he got to play in a tournament in the Dominican Republic. Mejia recalled closing out with four-straight shutouts.

"Heading to Florida open my eyes," Mejia said, "because we all believe that America is the land of dreams."

It was a life-changing opportunity.

Mejia started that year in 1985 in the rookie Gulf Coast League. In 10 outings, three starts, he picked up three wins and an ERA of 2.37. He also got an in-season promotion to single-A Florence.

A Glens Falls Golden Eagle tries out Cesar Mejia's MP Balancer in June 2014 at East Field. (Photo courtesy of the Glens Falls Area Baseball Society)
The transition to Florida from the Dominican Republic, Mejia recalled, wasn't that difficult. There were Spanish speakers. They could also follow the American players. Soon, he could understand enough to do well.

As far as getting on the field, Mejia recalled he was "a little exited."

But he also remembered facing top players in the Dominican Republic. Those players were older and more experienced. He had handled them before. He just had to concentrate.

"For me it was not too hard to get used to facing those hitters here in rookie ball," Mejia said.

After making it to Florence his first season, Mejia returned there for his second.In 37 outings, 18 starts, he went 9-7, with a 3.50 ERA. He also saved four games.

For 1987, he stayed in the South Atlantic League, moving with the club to Myrtle Beach. He went 7-4 that year, with a 2.73 ERA. He saved five games.
Cesar Mejia waiting go to on the field to throw out the first pitch at East Field in Glens Falls, NY, in June 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Glens Falls Area Baseball Society)
Mejia had pitched two full seasons in A-ball and part of a third. Mejia thought he did well enough to get moved up. He did, just not with the Blue Jays.

"I pitch real, real good that year," Mejia said, "I opened some people's eyes, especially the Detroit Tigers."

The Tigers were impressed enough to take Mejia that winter in the minor league draft.

Mejia was at home sleeping when he got the call with the news he was no longer with the Blue Jays. There was also word that the Tigers' plans for Mejia included putting him at a higher level for 1988.

Mejia recalled calling his family with the news. "I can't express how happy I was," Mejia said.

Mejia did end up at a higher level. He ended up in 1988 at AA Glens Falls. He also went on to have the best year of his career.

Part 1: Paid Back | Part 2: Let's Go
Part 3: Little Things

Go to Part 2: Cesar Mejia, Let's Go

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