Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview Part 2: Cesar Mejia, Let's Go

Cesar Mejia, left, talks with former Glens Falls Tigers assistant GM Phil Kahn as Mejia waits before a Golden Eagles game at East Field in June 2014. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Paid Back | Part 2: Let's Go
Part 3: Little Things

Adam Dempsey called for the fastball. Cesar Mejia wasn't so sure it was the right call.

For a AA game in mid-April, the stakes couldn't have been higher: The right pitch call meant Mejia would have a no-hitter.

Dempsey went to the mound to argue his case, Mejia recalled.

"He say, 'Cesar, you've been throwing many fastball in game and you are pitching really nice game,'" Mejia recalled to The Greatest 21 Days. "'So give me another good fastball right here and the game will be over.'

"I say, 'OK, let's go.'"

Mejia threw it and watched the result.

"I remember that weak ground ball he hit to first base," Mejia said. "That was really exciting. I was grateful."

Mejia had the no-hitter. He also went on to his best season as a pro.
Glens Falls Tigers at East Field in 1988. Cesar Mejia had his best year in 1988 for Glens Falls. (Pat Austin)
Mejia spoke with The Greatest 21 Days before a recent return to East Field and Glens Falls, NY. Mejia returned to throw out the first pitch for a Golden Eagles collegiate league game at the place where he won Eastern 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's chance to play at Glens Falls was almost ruined by a strike in his home country, Mejia recalled. The strike led to a delay in Mejia getting his visa, meaning he couldn't make it to spring training on time. He ended up being 11 days late.

When he arrived, Mejia recalled Tigers minor league pitching instructor Ralph Treuel welcoming him to camp. Helping recommend him to the Tigers in the first place was Tigers minor league manager Johnny Lipon, Mejia recalled.

Cesar Mejia, left, with Glens Falls Golden Eagles Chas Lacko, center, and Michael McFerran, right, at Glens Falls' East Field in June 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Glens Falls Area Baseball Society)
Mejia had a bullpen session right away, his pitching coach noting that Mejia got work in in the Dominican. His coach also told Mejia he'd be pitching in a game in two days, but the coach wasn't clear exactly who he'd be pitching against.
"I was expecting to see a AA or AAA club," Mejia said, "but when I got to the field Monday morning, they gave me two new baseballs. When I looked to the other part of the field, I saw the Cincinnati Reds major league club working out."

Treuel was there. Mejia clarified his task. Was Mejia really going to face those guys?

"He say, 'Yes, you're going to face those guys and you're ready to do it,'" Mejia recalled. "So that, for me, was a really, really very good experience. That's one of the reasons I got this organization really deep in my heart."

Mejia recalled being a little nervous starting, but he also gained confidence from having the likes of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker behind him.
Cesar Mejia talks with Glens Falls Golden Eagle Kairee Tekra at East Field in June 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Glens Falls Area Baseball Society)
He also recalled playing in the Dominican that winter and going to the Caribbean World Series. Mejia pitched against major leaguers there. He recalled throwing three good innings.

Mejia pitched well enough in his shortened spring to get his first assignment to AA. He arrived in Glens Falls in early April. He also turned in that awful first start.

After hearing from his manager John Wockenfuss, Mejia decided he had to pay back those responsible for bringing him to the Tigers and welcoming him, like Lipon and Treuel.

It was in the seventh inning of his next start, a cold April 17 that even had snow flurries, that fellow Glens Falls pitcher Hector Berrios asked Mejia if he'd seen the scoreboard. On the scoreboard were zeros. Mejia had yet to give up a hit.

Mejia didn't need to see the scoreboard, Mejia responded.
Cesar Mejia and Glens Falls Golden Eagle Fernando Beltran before Mejia threw out the first pitch at East Field in June 2014. (G21D Photo)
"I know I am pitching and that's the way that I'm going to finish the game, putting myself on the mound and try to do the best that I can," Mejia said.

When the ninth inning came, the no-hitter was still intact. Mejia got two easy outs. Then came Oscar Azocar, the fastball, weak grounder to first and the no-hitter.

That win was one of 14 Mejia would pick up in 1988 at Glens Falls over 25 starts. He ended with a 2.43 ERA and 99 strikeouts.

Then, as abruptly as he was brought to the Tigers system, he was gone. Late that August the Orioles sent Fred Lynn to the Tigers. Two weeks later, the Tigers completed the deal by sending three prospects back to Baltimore. One of those prospects was Mejia.

Mejia called it a "very sad situation." He thought he had a future with the Tigers. Now, he felt he was going to have to start over with another organization.

"I cannot praise God enough for the opportunity he gave me in my life," Mejia said. "I cannot praise God enough for the opportunity to come to Glens Falls that year."

Mejia made AAA Rochester with the Orioles in 1989, but he couldn't match his numbers from Glens Falls. He didn't play his last game until 1995. He then embarked on a new career, instruction.

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

Go to Part 3: Cesar Mejia, Little Things

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