Thursday, September 1, 2016

Interview Part 2: Bobby Filotei, Perfect Situation

The ballpark in Clinton, Iowa, in 2014. Bobby Filotei played at Clinton with the Cedar Rapids Reds in 1991. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: More Baseball | Part 2: Perfect Situation
Part 3: Good Players

Bobby Filotei walked into the Billings clubhouse after a whirlwind couple days.

After just getting signed to a professional contract at a Cincinnati workout in Alabama, he'd traveled home to Pennsylvania and then on to Montana to start his career.

Filotei recalled getting to the clubhouse at about 1 in the afternoon with the team getting ready for practice. Filotei figured after all his travel, he'd wait it out and be ready for the next day. His new manager had other ideas.

"I walked into the clubhouse," Filotei told The Greatest 21 Days earlier this year, "and Gerry Groninger, who was my new manager, shook my hand, said 'Congratulations, welcome to Billings' and said 'we've got an intersquad game in a half hour and you're hitting second.'"

"And I was like, 'OK, here we go.'"

Filotei's professional playing career started right then, in a Billings Mustangs scrimmage game.

"It was just one of those things," Filotei said. "You realize that they didn't care how long I had to travel to get here. In professional baseball, this is how things work. It happens fast."

Filotei soon got to know how things worked in baseball close up. He learned it in his brief career as a player, in games and watching his teammates. He learned it when he eventually got released - twice.
Veterans Memorial Stadium, former home to the Cedar Rapids Reds. Photo from new stadium's gift shop. Bobby Filotei played at Cedar Rapids in 1991 and 1992.
He's since learned well how things work in baseball in his post-playing career as a scout, first for the Reds, then the Padres and, most recently, the Cubs.

Filotei spoke to The Greatest 12 Days in April 2016, after scouting a player at a Keene State College-University of Southern Maine game in Keene, N.H.

Filotei arrived in Billings after getting signed at that Reds workout in Alabama. He almost didn't go, he recalled. He had other workouts coming up closer to his Pennsylvania home.

"I just figured, they want me to come down there because they want to see me for a reason," Filotei said. "And I said if I don't go, I'll kick myself going 'what if.' I said all it would cost me was a plane ticket to go down there and if it didn't work out, I had a couple other workouts with some teams back up here.

"Fortunately, that one worked out."

What did he think about it working out? Signing that pro contract?

"It was a dream come true," Filotei said. "I mean you look at all the hard work you put in and you just want an opportunity to compete at that level."

The level Filotei started at: Rookie ball and the Pioneer League. He recalled the Great Falls Dodgers being the Mustangs' first foe, the same Great Falls Dodgers with future National League Rookie of the Year Raul Mondesi and future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.
A sign welcoming travelers to southeastern Montana in 2009. Bobby Filotei spent his first season of pro ball in Montana, in Billings, in 1990. (Greatest 21 Days)
Filotei recalled facing Martinez and hitting a double down the line. "I used to call that my claim to fame, I'm like, 'I handled this guy,'" Filotei said with a laugh. He also noted Martinez got him a few other times.

Filotei got into 57 games for Billings that year, playing around the infield and hitting .197. He moved to single-A Cedar Rapids for 1991. His batting average didn't improve. He ended that year with a .216 mark over 102 games. He also got to play that year with another possible future Hall of Famer in Trevor Hoffman.

Filotei returned for spring training 1992, but his stay was brief. The Reds released him and he went home.

Besides his mother passing away, Filotei called that release probably the most traumatic thing to happen in his life.

"It was also one of those things that makes you kind of do some self-evaluation that, you know, I wasn't good enough to go up any further," Filotei said. "I was happy to get my opportunity to play and I was happy to go back."

Filotei got to go back after being at home for about a month and a half. Filotei had talked about trying to go into scouting, so when the Reds called, he thought it might be something with that.

Turned out, after some player injuries, the call was to see if Filotei still wanted to play. His answer was quick. He didn't need to talk it over. "I said 'When do you need me to be there?'"

Filotei didn't get a lot of playing time, but he was back as a professional. He started back at Cedar Rapids, then moved to Charleston, W.V., after another injury. With Cedar Rapids going to the playoffs, he shifted back there.
Pohlman Field in Beloit, Wisc., in 2014. Bobby Filotei played on the 1992 Cedar Rapids Reds, who faced and beat Beloit for the league title. (Greatest 21 Days)
In all, Filotei saw time in 17 games, getting eight hits in 55 at bats. Cedar Rapids also won the Midwest League championship, "so that was nice to get a minor league ring," Filotei said.

Filotei recalled going into that return knowing that was probably going to be it, so he kept an eye on his next goal. Back in Cedar Rapids, the club scouting director came in to watch the team play. Filotei knew him a bit from previously.

Filotei laid it out. He knew he wasn't coming back as a player, how could someone get into scouting?

After the year ended, the scouting director invited Filotei to a player tryout camp. Over three days there, Filotei received a crash course in scouting. Afterward, the director made the offer. They had a spot open and it was Filotei's if he wanted it.

Filotei wanted it.

Filotei said he often gets asked the same question, how could someone get into scouting? He answers that he's the wrong guy to ask because he basically lucked into it.

"It was just like the perfect situation," Filotei said. "Somebody left to go to another team. There was a spot open. They just kind of offered it to me and I just took it from there."

He's since taken it to more than 20 years watching and evaluating other players as a scout. One player he spotted, went on to change the course of a World Series - and break the hearts of Texas Rangers fans in the process. (Go to Part 3)

Go to Part 3: Bobby Filotei, Good Players

Part 1: More Baseball | Part 2: Perfect Situation
Part 3: Good Players

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