Legends On Deck

Randy Fontanez II: WBC – Getting Back To My Roots

Every kid growing up has a dream. With time passing some kids dreams become exactly that, just a dream. My dreaming began in the living room of my childhood home in Oviedo, Florida with a mini bat I got from an Orlando Rays game and a nerf ball.  Turning my moms living room into my own personal ball field and pretending to be playing in the Major Leagues was a daily event at the Fontanez household. From that living room grew two dreams for the game of baseball. Goal one was to become a professional baseball player and goal two was to play in the Olympics to represent my family roots.

After a mediocre year in the South Atlantic League, which was during my time in the New York Mets minor league system, I was converted from a starter and sent to the bullpen. I knew I had to find a way to complete the transition to the bullpen and make a name for myself as a legitimate pitcher at the professional level. My only option was to keep pitching and working to master my new role. Lucky for me, through my family roots I was able to pitch as a native in the Puerto Rican winter league for the Indios de Mayaguez.

Being a Low-A pitcher, my opportunities were few and far between to start the winter season, but that did not discourage me as I used my time to the fullest to work not only on physical things but mental as well. Each opportunity I received I made the most of it treating each game like my life depended on it. By the time the playoffs came around I was being used as a regular bullpen guy and finding great success even to the point where I was closing games in the round robin and Finals. We came up a game short of making it to the Caribbean Series and it was time to go home and rest up before my second spring training.

Pitching for Indios de Mayaguez –  Photo by: Gogo 2013

Within two weeks of my return home I received a call from one of the front office guys with the Mets saying to call him immediately. My first thought was, this could be it my time playing baseball is over. After quickly gathering myself, I went back to my positive mindset and said they probably just want me at spring early to workout or something.

When I called the front office, he told me that Puerto Rico called and wanted me to be an alternate for the team in case anyone got hurt or backed out during the short two game warm up before the 2013 World Baseball Classic started. Full of excitement to just be an alternate and get a jersey with the words Puerto Rico on my chest and the flag on my sleeve filled me with pride. When I told my dad and grandparents, I had never seen a happier group of people filled with pride, after finding out that I was going to be representing the homeland as an alternate.

Practice began in Ft. Myers where we were set to have two practice games against the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. Looking around the locker room at our first team meeting was quite surreal. I was surrounded by big leaguers I have seen since I was a kid playing in my living room. To say I was on cloud nine would be an understatement.

After practice I received a call from the General Manager of team who said he wanted to speak to me before the first game against the Red Sox. He told me that Andres Torres was not going to be able to participate in the World Baseball Classic and due to the flexibility of a lot of the players being able to play multiple positions the staff decided they would rather add an extra arm to the bullpen and that I was no longer an alternate but going to be competing for Puerto Rico against the worlds best.

First round action was set in San Juan, Puerto Rico in front of our home crowd against the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Spain. Going into Game 1 against Spain, I never saw so many people in a stadium in my whole life. I was filled with excitement to get this tournament going and to see what kind of role I would be playing.

My time came in Game 2 against the eventual World Champion, the Dominican Republic. I remember coming in the game with people on base and needing to get out of a jam. After my eight warm up pitches, I went to the back of the mound like I always do to give a short prayer of thanks for another opportunity to do what I love. When I toed the rubber, I took a peak at first to see the runner Robinson Cano taking his lead, than looked in at home plate to see Nelson Cruz ready to square off against me. I was in a state of mind that’s hard to even recreate through words but lets just say it was an adrenaline filled bliss. I ended up tossing a scoreless ninth, giving up just one hit.

Pitching in all three rounds of the tournament left me feeling more than proud of my individual achievements and even more so proud of our teams achievements. Throughout the tournament the chatter was that Puerto Rico wasn’t going to make it out of the first round because of our tough pool featuring Major league All Stars such as Miguel Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

When the tournament ended I found myself being given a silver medal in front of thousands of fans at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. To think I was pretending to represent my country as a kid in my living room to actually living it out playing for a World Championship is something I will never forget.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” –Arthur Ashe

~ Randy Fontanez II

From A Players Eyes is a feature that shares the baseball players Journey’s in their own words of whom are still working towards their dreams of playing Major League Baseball, as well as those that never got the chance and had to leave the game they love behind. Read their stories only at Legends on Deck.


%d bloggers like this: