Monday, February 13, 2017

Interview Part 1: Hector Barrios, Tried It

Williamsport Crosscutter pitching coach, right, at Troy, NY, in summer 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Tried It | Part 2: Nice Core

Troy, NY - Hector Berrios wanted to play professionally, but he wanted to be an outfielder, not a pitcher.

So, when scouts saw him more as a pitcher, Berrios initially passed. First the Giants scouted him, saw him on the mound. Then the Royals looked at him and also saw a pitcher.

"I still didn't sign," Berrios recalled the Greatest 21 Days, "because I still didn't want to be a pitcher."

But the more Berrios thought about it, the more he figured he should try.

"I finally came to the conclusion that, you know what, that's not the first person I heard it from, so let me just try it," Berrios said.

Berrios tried it and win on to an eight-season professional career. He's also gone on to a career teaching pitching in the minors. He's served as a pitching coach for nearly two decades, including at short-season Williamsport in 2016 and into 2017.

Berrios spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in summer 2016 when his visiting Williamsport Crosscutters played the Tri-City Valley Cats in Troy, NY.

Berrios' playing career took him through the Royals, Tigers and Angels systems. He made AAA over two seasons, one with the Angels and the other with the Cubs and Dodgers. He never made the majors.
Williamsport Crosscutters pitching coach Hector Berrios in Troy, NY, in summer 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
His interest in the basics of the game began in his native Puerto Rico. He recalled throwing rocks as a young boy and hitting them with a stick.

"I didn't even know what baseball was all about until I got here, to the United States," Berrios said.

His family settled in the Bronx when he was about 6 or 7 and his father rooted for the Mets. Watching the early World Series helped cement Berrios' interest, he recalled.

"I knew that that's what I wanted to do," he said.

Berrios played at James Monroe High School in the Bronx and went on to play at Connors State College in Oklahoma. Berrios served as a center fielder there.

He recalled pitching a single game, throwing a shutout for six innings. He didn't pitch again until the playoffs.

His first brush with the pros came in the Dominican Republic at a tryout with the Giants. The scout there wanted to sign Berrios, but his supervisor disagreed, Berrios recalled.

"He said I didn't have the tools, the speed," Berrios said of the supervisor.
Hector Berrios, left, before a summer 2016 game at Troy, NY. (Greatest 21 Days)
The Giants kept tabs on Berrios, then drafted him in the ninth round of the 1983 January draft. They wanted him as an outfielder, but possibly as a pitcher, as well.

"It was a dream come true, like anybody else," Berrios said. "When you sign on that dotted line you already see yourself in Kauffman Stadium pitching for the Royals. But, as we know, it's a long road and a lot of things can happen."

For Berrios, those things included arm injuries setting him back.

Berrios started with the Royals at short-season Eugene. He served mostly as a reliever, turning in a 2.53 ERA. He recalled seeming to have a knack for pitching from the start, throwing two pitches for strikes, his fastball and his curve.

Along with his on-the-field experience, Berrios counted his bench time listening to coaches as equally valuable, if not more so.

"That's when I really started to learn how the mental side was the more important part," Berrios said. "I think that's what really, really helped me out the most, to be able to understand that this game was not just a physical game, it was a mental game."

Berrios played his second season between Eugene and high-A Fort Myers. Then came his first injury.

Finishing out that year, though, Berrios felt some elbow pain. He got treatment, but it didn't go away. He still got to pitch in the championship game with Eugene, going three innings and striking out six, he recalled.

By spring 1986, though, his shoulder still hurt. He didn't perform and, on the final day of spring training, the Royals released him.
Williamsport Crosscutter Seranthony Dominguez looks in toward the plate at Troy, NY in summer 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
Berrios recalled almost being relieved by his release. His arm hurt and he then had time to make it better.

Berrios ended up working out in a gym and healing without surgery. but he didn't play at all in 1986.

"By the next year, when I started to get the itch again and my arm had healed, I was able to go back," Berrios said.

Berrios got back by calling up a scout.

"He asked me to come down to the Dominican Republic and if I was the way I said I was, he would sign me," Berrios said. "That's how I started with the Detroit Tigers."

Assigned to single-A Fayetteville, Berrios recalled getting hit hard early. He even heard from the pitching coordinator that he was about to get released.

He then found his footing. He pitched two innings at Savannah and struck out five. He struck out a lot of batters over the next couple months and pulled his ERA down.

He learned a new pitch, the split-finger fastball. He hadn't had a changeup before. He now had three pitches.

"I had something off-speed for right-handers and a good curveball for lefties," Berrios said. "So it kind of balanced me out and that's basically what got me on track as a pitcher." (Go to Part 2)

Part 1: Tried It | Part 2: Nice Core

Go to Part 2: Hector Berrios, Nice Core

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