One of the fun parts about covering a baseball game at the major league level is in the pregame preparation reporters and journalists involve themselves in.
Usually, we meet with each manager before the games to get some background on lineups and injuries, etc. Often times, we get to hobnob with players and other members of the media, in our own market as well as reporters from the opposing team’s city.
Tonight was one such night when we had the pleasure of sitting down in the Mets dugout with former Mets right handed pitcher, Nelson Figueroa. Figueroa pitched for the Mets from 2006 2012, with varying degrees of success. In nine years in the big leagues, Figueroa compiled a 20-35 record with mostly bad teams. But, he pitched in “The Show” for nine years. Not many can say that so in his case, the phrase, journeyman, is one he proudly carries.
Figueroa was born in Brooklyn and attended Abraham Lincoln High School, better known for its basketball teams and NBA stars than baseball, though it has produced a few major leaguers like Lee Mazzilli, Dallas Williams, a number one draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1977, and yes, Nelson Figueroa.
“I was 5’10’, 145 pounds in high school so nobody at the college or professional level looked at me,” said Figueroa, as we chatted in the Mets dugout before tonight’s game. “I was throwing between 80 and 85 miles per hour so they weren’t exactly knocking my door down to recruit me.”
Part of what led to Figueroa’s eventual success as a major league pitcher came from being in the right place at the right time, to be seen by scouts who had no particular interest in watching him pitch. He just happened to get into a game.
“After my senior year in high school, there was a baseball consortium that brought a bunch of high school players from New York City up to Waltham, Massachusetts for a week of games and practices. It was a chance for different colleges to get a look at kids who weren’t recruited but might have a little college-level talent.”
Figueroa was off to a side, warming up, when he was approached by a man who introduced himself as the coach of the college baseball team at the college located in that same town of Waltham, Massachusetts, Brandeis University. It was not exactly a hotbed of baseball but the coach liked what Figueroa was throwing and, as they say, the rest is history.
Figueroa accepted a baseball scholarship to Brandeis, a Division Two program. The rigorous academics of Brandeis was right up his alley, as he was planning to attend Stanford, on his high school grades and board scores, alone. This was not a kid without talent in many facets of his life.
“I chose Brandeis because, one, they offered me the opportunity to pitch. And, two, I thought I could be a big fish in a small pond up in Waltham, and possibly get noticed if I dominated competition at that level.”
The turning point for Figueroa came in the summer of 1994, when he was invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Summer Baseball League, which, to this very day, showcases and produces great major league baseball players. The competition is considered the best summer program in the country for college-age players.