ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 14: Closer Ernesto Frieri #49 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitches in the ninth inning on his way to picking up a save against the Cleveland Indians at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 14, 2012 in Anaheim, California. The Angels won 9-6. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)2012 Getty Images
New York – Edgar Renteria's single that drove in the winning run not only gave the then-Florida Marlins their first World Series title in the fall of 1997 but also opened the eyes of young kids back home in Colombia.
Los Angeles Angels closer Ernesto Frieri just happened to be one of those kids, a 12-year-old, who unlike many his age preferred playing baseball instead of soccer.
Frieri, in an interview with Fox News Latino, said he was always a fan and grew accustomed to the game because his uncles played it despite soccer being the nation's sports.
“In Colombia you know it's soccer up and down,” the Bolivar native said.
Renteria's game-winning hit gave Frieri the hope that he too could one day live the dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player, thus eventually becoming one of only 13 players from the South American country to wear a major league uniform- compared to 563 from the Dominican Republic.
Lou Castro was the first Colombian to play in the majors. The Medellín native played 42 games in 1902 for the Philadelphia Athletics. The next Colombian didn't reach the majors until 1974 when Orlando Ramírez made his debut with the California Angels in 1974. He spent parts of five seasons between the big leagues and the minors before leaving the game for good.
In Frieri's case, he had pitched well over the last two seasons with San Diego but it surely didn't convince the organization when the Angels came calling. Trying to revamp the bullpen, the Angels made the move on May 3 to acquire Frieri, especially after the bullpen struggled and got off to a slow start to begin a season full of high expectations. He settled in quickly and by May 23 had taken over the closer's role.
Frieri admitted that he wasn't expecting to have gotten the amount of confidence the Angels instilled in him in such a short time. Let alone he never thought he was going to fall into the set up man/closer role in just a matter of weeks.
“If someone ratifies that you're doing things well, that confidence is going to grow a lot more.”
Confidence and an opportunity is what Frieri would like for other young Colombians to get from Major League Baseball teams who travel to his homeland to sign a few 16 or 17 year-olds during the international signing period.
Like it or not, sometimes in any sport all it takes is just an injury to get that one shot. That's just how the dice rolled when the Chicago White Sox saw a need for a starter after John Danks headed to the 15-day DL on May 25. Recalling José Quintana from Triple-A Charlotte, the Sox put him into the rotation after having done pretty well during a spot-start on the Colombian's major league debut May 7, allowing just one hit over 5 2/3 innings against Cleveland.
Quintana is 6-5 with a 3.65 ERA for the AL Central-leading White Sox and made an immediate impression on first year manager Robin Ventura, who told Fox News Latino a day after the lefty's start against his former team, the Yankees, that the 23-year-old was going to stick around for good.
Not too shabby for a left handed pitcher, a commodity in the game.
Quintana said his dad is a big baseball fan and at a young age pushed his son towards the game.
“Well we do have talent. There's enough talent. I think there's a possibility that (major league teams) give an opportunity to the youngsters out there so that they can come and have the chance to play here,” the Arjona native told Fox News Latino.
Miami's Donovan Solano made his major league debut 14 days after Quintana did and seems like he could be in the lead for the starting job at second base with the Marlins. Another Solano brother, Jhonatan, made it to the big stage for the first time seven days after his older brother did but was sent back to the minors weeks later.
Who knows how long it will take for Colombia to be a major pipeline of talent for the majors the way their Latin American counterparts have been. Like Renteria, whose biggest hit in the early days turned into a16-year career ,and Orlando Cabrera, who had a stellar career over the span of 15 years, their fellow countrymen have certainly played a positive role in the young and promising careers of four Colombians that call Major League Baseball their home and others that are in the minors working their way up.
Frieri is hoping to have the same effect on some Colombian kid back home that Renteria had on him in that magical World Series game so long ago.
“If I can be a hero to a kid, I will give it my all, on and off the playing field so that I can be that mirror image and have that kid say, 'Wow, I want to be like Ernesto Frieri.'”
“That's why I believe in the phrase that says 'I play for those that believe in heroes.'”
Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc