01/07/2004 3:59 PM ET
Ojeda seeks role in big leagues
By Mike Scarr / MLB.com
The roster swirls around him but when the dust settles and the season opens, Miguel Ojeda will likely find himself still a Major Leaguer.
|Miguel Ojeda's dramatic 10th-inning homer beat the Cardinals on July 21, 2003. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)
The Padres have already made six separate offseason moves affecting catchers, including the release and then re-signing of Ojeda.
Gone are last year's starter Gary Bennett and the one-time heir apparent to the position, Wiki Gonzalez. Taking over starting chores behind the plate will be Ramon Hernandez who came over with outfielder Terrence Long from the A's in exchange for center fielder Mark Kotsay. The Padres also claimed catcher Tom Wilson off waivers from Toronto on Wednesday.
But handling the backup role at catcher this coming season for the Padres still remains in the hands of Ojeda.
"We'll see how it all shakes out in Spring Training but I think competition is always good," Padres director of player development Tye Waller said. "We like (Ojeda) enough to invite him back for another year."
The soon-to-be 29-year old, whose only other experience with a Major League organization prior to last year came in three brief stretches: a 27-game stint with the Gulf Coast League Pirates in 1993, his first year in professional baseball, then 48 games the following year at Welland and an 18-game run at Carolina in 1998.
The rest of the time, Ojeda played in the Mexican League for parts of nine seasons, mostly for the Mexico City Red Devils, and he put up the numbers that helped him get another look. In his last three full seasons in Mexico, Ojeda hit .318, .310 and then .352 with 25, 16 and 19 homers respectively.
Ojeda arrived in San Diego last May, realizing a personal dream of reaching the bigs and subsequently filling a major hole for the ballclub.
"The guys seemed to like him," Waller said. "He made the adjustments both in hitting and catching. In Mexico, it's more of an off-speed game so you call a lot of breaking balls. In the States, you work a lot more with fastballs but he was able to make those adjustments."
With Bennett down to injury and Gonzalez unable to fill the void, Ojeda stepped in to back up interim starter Michael Rivera. When Bennett returned, Rivera was released and Ojeda took over as the Padres' full-time No. 2 catcher.
That is fine with Ojeda who called May 17, 2003, the day he signed with the Padres, the biggest dream of his life. It also satisfied a promise for the Mexican native from the small town of Guaymas in the state of Sonora, who told his unborn son Miguel, now age four, that he would make it to the Major Leagues.
Ojeda is currently playing winter ball in Mexico with the Mazatlan Deer. In 67 games, he was batting .227 with five homers and 28 RBIs, which fairly reflects his numbers with the Padres last season when he hit .234 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 61 games.
"I thought he was a bit streaky but his power numbers were pretty good," Waller said.
But numbers are not as much a concern as his ability to play when Hernandez needs a day off. In the last four seasons with Oakland, Hernandez did not catch in fewer than 135 games while posting a high of 142 games behind the plate in 2000.
Ojeda also has the eye for the dramatic. He drilled a 10th-inning walkoff homer against the Cardinals last July.
"Hernandez will get most of the starts back there and now we've got (Wilson) in the mix," Waller said. "But competition breeds success."
Catcher Humberto Quintero is likely headed back to the minors so he can play every day, and now Wilson has entered the fray at the backup catching position. Ojeda is hopeful he'll be the man behind the man for the Padres next season.
But for father and son, he is simply the man.
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.