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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Interview Part 3: Pedro Lopez, Drives Him

Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez motions in the dugout at NYSEG Stadium in August 2014. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Different Perspective | Part 2: That Ride
Part 3: Drives Him | Part 4: Worked Out

Pedro Lopez played 13 seasons as a pro. He made AAA in five of those seasons. He never played in the majors.

What kept him in the game so long?

"I think the love for the game, I have to tell you," Lopez told The Greatest 21 Days recently. "And that's what I teach these guys every day and that's still the thing that drives me now that I'm doing this.

"I love the game. I love being around the game. I enjoy helping people."

Lopez is still in the game, spending his 14th season as a manager in the minors. For 2014, he's serving as manager of the AA Binghamton Mets.

In 2013, after a quarter century in the game as a player and manager, Lopez finally made the majors, spending that September as a coach with the Mets in Queens.

As a player, though, there were close calls, Lopez recalled, mainly toward the end. 
Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez coaches third in August 2013.
Lopez spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently in his NYSEG Stadium office in Binghamton. Lopez covered his time growing up and learning the game in Puerto Rico, to his long professional playing career. He also told of his now long career as a manager in the minors.

Lopez played his 13 seasons in the Padres, Brewers and Astros systems. He spent his final four seasons with the Astros.

He played spring training 2000 in big league camp with the Astros. He'd been in big league camp before, with both the Padres and Brewers. He was also there with the Astros in 1999.

In spring 2000, though, Lopez stayed with the big club until late. He had the chance to catch Shane Reynolds, he recalled. Sent down late in camp, Lopez soon found his elbow injured.

"I don't know how it happened," Lopez said. Just out of the blue, it started. I felt a pinch in my elbow. My elbow never hurt."

He tried to play through it. It didn't work. A few days later, he went down to the bullpen in a game at Lakeland, and his elbow went out.

"I caught the ball behind the plate and I went to throw it back and the ball probably went five feet from me," Lopez recalled. "It just went straight down."
Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez, center, meets with umpires before an August 2014 game. (G21D Photo)
He went to AAA New Orleans and tried to rehab it. He got into just eight games. Soon, he was released. It was the only time in his career that he was released.

Though Lopez recalled it seemed apparent the end was coming, it was still tough when it finally came. He recalled telling his wife Gladys what had happened.

"I told her with tears in my eyes," Lopez recalled. "I was like, 'you know what? As much as I love doing what I do, I think this is a sign. This is a sign from the Lord that 'There's better things for you. I think you have to move forward' and I did."

Lopez went back home and had surgery on his elbow. The surgery required five months without throwing, six months without hitting. He was done.

Soon after, though, Lopez recalled getting word through a friend that a major league injury shortly after Lopez was released may have resulted in Lopez finally being called up, had he been healthy.

Lopez said he's rarely talked about that. That's because, he said, it's never crossed his mind.

"I don't look back saying I'm sorry or feeling regrets about it or anything like that," Lopez said, "because, once again, I'm supposed to be where I'm supposed to be. This is my purpose in life."
Pedro Lopez, manager of the St. Lucie Mets, coaches third at Digital Domain Park in 2011. (G21D Photo)
A couple years earlier, Lopez recalled getting a call from the Rangers. The call came with an offer of a job as a coach.

Lopez was already headed to big league camp with the Astros, so he passed. He was still a player.

If something happened, Lopez promised he'd give them a call. After his surgery, Lopez called. That November, he was hired by the Rangers as a minor league coach.

His stint as a coach ended up being brief. Soon, the former catcher in 13 minor league seasons was in his first year as a minor league manager.

The club actually wanted Lopez to start as a manager, he recalled. But Lopez wasn't so sure that's where he wanted to start.

He recalled telling the team that. He'd just got done playing, he wanted a chance to observe as a coach first.

"If you think that I'm a candidate to manage then I'll do it," Lopez recalled responding, "because I like challenges. I just don't want to throw myself into that situation without getting my feet wet."

Lopez soon got his chance to observe. He also got his chance to show what he knew. (Go to Part 4)

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

Go to Part 4: Pedro Lopez, Worked Out

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