Sunday, August 24, 2014

Interview Part 1: Pedro Lopez, Different Perspective

Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez, right, watches over batting practice at NYSEG Stadium in August 2014. Lopez played on the 1990 Charleston Rainbows. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Different Perspective | Part 2: That Ride
Part 3: Drives Him | Part 4: Worked Out

BINGHAMTON, NY - When a scout came up to ask the teenage Pedro Lopez some questions, Lopez automatically assumed the scout was looking for the other Pedro on the that American Legion team. The good Pedro.

The scout, it turned out, wasn't looking for that Pedro. He had the right Pedro. And he was interested in learning more about him.

It was the first time, Lopez recalled recently, that someone like that had expressed interest in his playing ability.

"First and foremost, it was just a great feeling," Lopez recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days. "There are people telling you, yeah, you're doing a good job. But when you've got somebody from the outside, that's not family related, it kind of opens up your eyes. It kind of gives you a different perspective."

For Lopez, his eyes were soon opened to things much bigger than someone simply expressing interest in his playing ability.

That conversation with that scout ended up being the seed that started a professional playing career that spanned 13 seasons and a minor league managerial career that continues in 2014.

That playing career took him up to AAA in five seasons. He never made the majors as a player.
Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez throws some batting practice at NYSEG Stadium in August 2014. (G21D Photo)
In 2013, after more than a quarter century in the game, Lopez, the manager at AA Binghamton, finally gained the perspective of baseball's highest level. He spent three weeks with the major league club that September as a coach.

Lopez spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently in his NYSEG Stadium office in Binghamton. Lopez continues to manage the AA Mets in 2014.

Lopez spoke about his origins in the game in his native Puerto Rico. He also touched on his start in the pros and his early struggles adapting to life in the United States. It was conversation with a team booster, he recalled, that helped set him work through those early troubles by turning to his faith.

After spending 13 seasons as a player, Lopez then moved on to his career as a manager. He spoke about his philosophy as a manager, to simply let his players play the game.

It is a philosophy he recalled learning from one of his old minor league managers, Bruce Bochy.

Lopez learned the game while growing up in his native Puerto Rico. He credited his father with basically introducing him to baseball, getting Lopez into all the programs he could. "He always was a big time baseball fan," Lopez recalled.

It was during his first year in American Legion ball that Lopez met that scout from Texas. After the initial confusion, the scout stayed in touch.
Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez, right, in the Binghamton dugout in August 2014. (G21D Photo)
Lopez was interested in playing, but his real goal was to get into sports medicine and be a doctor. "I wanted to be involved with sports and I loved medicine," Lopez said.

The scout learned Lopez was interested in going to college. That led to an opportunity at Arizona Western College. He'd gotten some offers to play professionally, but Lopez chose Arizona Western.

Part of the calculation was money. He and his family didn't feel like the offers were good enough. After his first year there, he ended up getting drafted.

The Padres took him in the 21st round of the 1988 draft. He ended up signing. It was for less money than he would have gotten had he signed earlier, he recalled.

The difference, Lopez said, was his father's health. He'd been injured at work and lingering back problems meant he couldn't return to work.

After he was drafted, Lopez recalled calling his mother and telling her he'd decided it was time for him to do something for the family.

"That kind of changed the whole thing seeing my dad the way he was," Lopez said. "That kind of changed my mind. I did it and I don't regret it."

The plan was Lopez was going to continue school in the off-season. As it turned out, fall instructional league and winter ball left no time for that.

In that first year, though, Lopez recalled being thankful that he spent that year in college. All the classes that he took helped him learn the language better.
Binghamton manager Pedro Lopez heads to the third base coaching box during an August 2014 game in Binghamton. (G21D Photo)
Once in the pros, Lopez got the chance to see if he could really do it. He recalled being about 170 pounds and playing catcher. There were also the cultural differences being from Latin America.

"Once I signed, I saw guys smaller than me and probably my size and I was like, 'I can play here,'" Lopez said.

He played his first season in the rookie Arizona League. He hit .282 in 42 games. The climate there was warm, more akin to where he grew up.

The next year, though, his challenges began. He was assigned to single-A Waterloo, Iowa. In 97 games there, he hit just .191. His poor start continued through the season. The weather, he said, got him.

"It was really hard, it was," Lopez said. "It was just the cold weather early on. That's the thing that really kicked my butt. I really struggled with it ... I still struggle now."

Coming off that season, Lopez moved to single-A Charleston for 1990. He didn't get playing time and he took it hard.

"That year, I think I hit rock bottom," Lopez said. "I did not know what to do."

But then a chance encounter with a Charleston booster originally from Puerto Rico set Lopez right and set him up for another decade as a player and his long career as a minor league manager. (Go to Part 2)

Part 1: Different Perspective | Part 2: That Ride
Part 3: Drives Him | Part 4: Worked Out

Go to Part 2: Pedro Lopez, That Ride

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