The following is an excerpt from Alou: My Baseball Journey (April 2018) by Felipe Alou with Peter Kerasotis. This foreword was written by Pedro Martínez, Hall of Fame pitcher and fellow Dominican.
Interested in learning more about the book? Peter Kerasotis will be at the Melbourne Barnes and Noble on April 28, and the Vero Beach Book Center on April 29, to sign and discuss Alou. Drop by and say hello!
I love Felipe Alou.
Felipe is a treasure in my country, in the game of baseball, and, most important, in my heart.
When I was growing up in the Dominican Republic our history books instructed us on the story of the Alou brothers, especially Felipe. He was the first to go directly from our country to Major League Baseball (MLB). There were others who followed him from our soil—Juan Marichal, Julián Javier, Manny Mota, and, of course, two other Alou brothers, Matty and Jesús. But Felipe was the first. He paved the way. For those of us who followed him from our small island to the big leagues, Felipe was the light at the end of the tunnel.
Although the Alou brothers are in our country’s history books, I didn’t need those books to know about them. I grew up hearing about the Alous from my parents, my uncles, and other grownups, about how three Dominican brothers occupied the same outfield for a Major League team. I also heard the stories about how my father played against Felipe when they were both young amateurs. The Alous are baseball royalty in my country. It started with them, with Felipe. If you trace the genes of baseball in the Dominican Republic, you will arrive at the name Alou.
Imagine, then, what I was thinking when I first got to know Felipe. Sometimes you meet somebody you’ve heard about your whole life and looked up to from a distance, and you’re disappointed. Felipe was different. Felipe exceeded my expectations. He still does.
I was a Minor League pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization when Felipe selected me to play for the Dominican Republic team he was managing in the 1992 Caribbean Series. It was an honor, and I was surprised because I didn’t even know he was aware of me, this scrawny kid who was trying to prove he belonged. Not only was Felipe aware of me, but he also saw in me the potential that would eventually take me to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. We were playing a game in Hermosillo, Mexico, during that Caribbean Series. I was pitching when there was a rain delay. It wasn’t too long, maybe forty-five minutes. When it stopped raining and I headed back to the mound to pitch, Felipe stopped me.
“No, no, no!” he shouted. “Wait a minute. I need to protect you. You’re too young. I’m not going to have you waiting a long time and then have you go back out there. We need to protect you. You’re a top prospect.”
I was stunned. It’s very rare when you find someone who cares about you without really exchanging a word with you. But that’s Felipe. That’s when I realized what kind of heart he has.
It was later when I learned what kind of head he has, when I had the privilege of playing for Felipe in the Major Leagues. It was a blessing I’ll never forget. I did not anticipate that Felipe would come back into my life, but he did, and it was at a time early in my career when I was struggling with two things—getting people to believe me and getting people to believe in me.
I was twenty-two years old and had pitched two years for the Dodgers when they traded me to the Montreal Expos before the 1994 season. I felt at the time, and still do now, that the Dodgers gave up on me. I also know that Felipe, who was managing the Expos, had something to do with Montreal acquiring me. With the Dodgers I had yo-yoed back and forth between being a starting pitcher and a reliever, and it was difficult. I wanted to be a starter, but I didn’t know what the Expos had in mind.
That first spring training, as soon as I got dressed in my uniform, I heard Felipe’s voice. “Hey, Pedro, come into my office.” Felipe was sitting at his desk, holding a baseball. “Hey, listen. You see this ball?” he said. “This ball is for you. You’re my number-four starter. My number-four starter!”
It startled me for a moment. “Does this mean I’m going to be a starting pitcher?” I stammered.
“Yeah, you are my number four.”
But he didn’t stop there. Not Felipe. He’s always explaining, expanding on what he’s thinking.
“Nobody is going to take you away from there, either,” he said. “This is my decision. If I go, you go. And I’m here to stay. They do what I say, and I say you are my number-four starter. And when I say number four, I say number four because there are people in front of you who have earned the respect to be named ahead of you. But in reality you are number one when your turn comes up. Because the number one, the number two, and the number three cannot pitch in your spot. So you are my number one that day. Never forget that. You are my number one whenever you take the ball.”
I could almost feel my chest expanding. With those few words Felipe built my confidence in a way I’ll never forget and I’ll forever appreciate. At the same time he taught me a lesson that never went away. From that day forward, whenever I took the ball on the pitcher’s mound, my mind-set was that I am the number-one starter.
There are so many other lessons, too. I found myself always trying to sit close to Felipe, listening, observing, trying to see what he saw, because Felipe saw so much more in the game of baseball than anyone else I’ve ever known. He’s like an encyclopedia, an encyclopedia that is always open to you, always sharing.
Read more in Alou: My Baseball Journey!