This feature on Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Eddie Oropesa appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in April 2002.
Living every day like it’s his last
By Ed Odeven
PHOENIX (April 20, 2002) — Veteran pitcher Eddie Oropesa treasures every day. For him, every day is a blessing, another day to do what he loves.
“Every day when I wake up I thank God, come to the ballpark and give 100 percent,” he said.
With Oropesa’s optimistic outlook and pitching talents, he’s been a positive addition to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A free-agent pickup by the D-backs during the off-season, Oropesa arrived at the D-backs’ spring training camp in Tucson as a non-roster invitee. A slight hamstring strain limited his availability during Cactus League action — he made six appearances. And with injuries causing veteran pitchers Armando Reynoso (neck), Todd Stottlemyre (shoulder), Matt Mantei (elbow) and Greg Swindell (shoulder) to begin the season on the disabled list, Oropesa was given an opportunity to make Arizona’s Opening Day roster.
It was not an opportunity Oropesa would waste.
“He got the ball and little by little he was breaking in,” D-backs pitcher Miguel Batista said.
“He was really excited the day they told him he made the team.”
Through Friday, Oropesa, a submarine-style lefty, has been the busiest reliever out of the D-backs’ bullpen, making 11 appearances. He’s tied with four others for the most appearances in the National League. Oropesa’s ERA sky-rocketed to 5.23 after a shaky outing Friday.
PURSUING A DREAM
Oropesa, 30, was born and raised in Cuba. He attended the University of Matanzas. On the baseball-crazed island where talent is abundant, Oropesa made the Cuban National Team.
However, he yearned for more. He wanted a better life for his family. He wanted to pursue his dream of playing in the major leagues. And he wanted freedom from dictator Fidel Castro’s communist regime.
“When I had my first opportunity, I said I wanted to defect,” Oropesa said.
While in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1993 for an exhibition game between a Cuban traveling team and a team from South Korea, Oropesa defected. He climbed over a fence at the ballpark and never looked back. Oropesa’s wife Rita was pregnant at the time with the couple’s first-born child, Edilberto, back in Cuba.
It was not an easy road to take. Oropesa toiled for eight years in the minors, starting with the St. Paul Saints of the Independent Northern League in 1993. He pitched in four games that year for the Saints, posting a 3-1 record with a 1.93 ERA.
The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in the 14th round of the amateur draft the following year. The well-traveled Oropesa pitched for Vero Beach in 1994, San Antonio, Vero Beach and San Bernardino in ’95, San Bernardino in ’96, Shreveport in ’97, The President Lions in Taiwan (Chinese Professional Baseball League) in ’98, Fresno, Bakersfield and Reynosa (Mexican League) in ’99 and Shreveport again in 2000.
Many ballplayers would have given up and changed professions. Oropesa did not. He kept with it, kept striving to get a shot at “The Show.”
Oropesa, a non-roster invitee to the Philadelphia Phillies camp last spring, made a good impression, pitching in 13 exhibition games without giving up an earned run.
Finally, he made his major-league debut last season with the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched on Opening Day
“I’ve gone through so much, fighting and struggling,” Oropesa was quoted as saying at the time in the Miami Herald. “There were times in the past eight years I felt my head was going to explode from all the pressure inside it. I came here to be free, to have a future, to give my son a life different from the one I had, and to see him in the crowd.”
“It’s hard to play so many years in the minor leagues, especially those first few years when my family was back in Cuba,” he said earlier this week.
Oropesa’s wife and three kids and his parents now live in the United States. He said they are grateful to enjoy the freedom and opportunities that exist in America.
Pitching in Cuba helped prepare Oropesa for the high-pressure situations of being a major leaguer. He said that no ballplayers influenced his pitching style. Instead, he credits his father, Eddie, for passing on to him his love for the game.
“I thank my father every day for taking me to the park in Centrales Espana, Cuba,” he said.
MAKING HIS MARK
Oropesa feels grateful for the opportunity to pitch for the D-backs.
“I was very happy when they called to my agent (to invite me) to come to spring training to try out for the World Champs,” he said.
“Every day when I come into the ballpark, I’m ready to play. They gave me the opportunity, so I want to give 100 percent.
“They gave me the opportunity. I need to say thank you to the organization for giving me the opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity that doesn’t rattle him. He has proven he has the nerves and the inner strength for this profession.
“(Playing) in the major leagues is like (playing in) Cuba,” Oropesa said. “It’s hard to play for your country, especially when it’s a communist country.”
It may be hard for Oropesa to remain one of the league’s best-kept secrets.
“He’s a guy who has come a long way,” Batista said. “He knows how to pitch. He just needed an opportunity and so far they are giving him the opportunity.
“He’s opening people’s eyes…They can think he can do the job as well as anybody else.”
Here’s where Oropesa figures to be a top commodity:
“There are going to possibly be situations in the fifth or sixth inning of games where you have to get a tough left-hander out and then that same situation may occur in the eighth or the ninth,” D-backs manager Bob Brenly said.
Like fellow southpaw submariner Mike Myers, Oropesa has had his fair share of success against righties, too.
“I think he’s fine against righties,” Brenly said. “Him and Myers are fine against right-handers. They both have such an unorthodox delivery that hitters, right-handed or left-handed, aren’t used to seeing. They both have tremendous movement on their pitches.”
Movement is a word that perfectly sums up Oropesa’s adult life. After all, he’s pitched for 14 teams in three countries on two continents in the past nine years. It’s been a journey well worth it.