Carlos Baerga Jr.

Danville Braves outfielder Carlos Baerga Jr. has baseball in his blood. He travelled around the country throughout his childhood while his dad was playing professionally. Now, he’s following in his dad’s footsteps while chasing his own dream of reaching the majors, starting with his time in Danville.

Baseball fans might remember the name Carlos Baerga. He played Major League Baseball from 1990-2005. The first five and a half years were played for the Cleveland Indians, where he was a part of the 1995 American League championship team that eventually lost to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

That year is important to Baerga for another reason, as it’s the same year his son was born. That son is now a member of the Danville Braves, attempting to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Carlos Baerga Jr. is a left fielder for the Braves. The first 10 years of his life he followed as his dad finished up his career as a big league player. The travelling meant the younger Baerga had a few favorite teams. Baerga Jr. said that he rooted for whatever team his dad was on. From the time he was born, his father played for the Indians twice, the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals.

Baerga Jr. also has an older sister. The problem is she didn’t play baseball, something that he gave his dad a hard time about all the time growing up.

“‘Why couldn’t you make me first?,’” Baerga Jr. said with a laugh at Danville’s facility last week. “I could appreciate your All-Star years more than my sister, because my sister didn’t play baseball. I used to bother him a lot because of that.”

When he was six or seven years old, someone asked Baerga Jr. who his favorite player was. He said it was Randy Johnson shortly after meeting him the hall of famer in person. He said his dad called after he had heard what the younger Baerga said.

“Dad, I’m a pitcher and I’m left-handed,” Baerga Jr. recalled giving his dad an explanation.

Baerga Jr. stopped pitching in 10th grade and primarily became an outfielder, which is where he plays now for Danville, except for game two of the 2018 season. The Braves and Pulaksi Yankees had gone to extra innings and the Braves were out of pitchers for the night. Shortstop Luis Mejia pitched a scoreless ninth inning and then Baerga Jr. was next. He ended up earning the win with two innings of work, allowing just one unearned run and striking out two.

“I didn’t think they were ever going to make me pitch in a pro game, but I did and it turned out okay,” Baerga Jr. said.

SON OF A PRO BALL PLAYER

The first 10 years of Baerga Jr.’s life were spent with his dad still playing in the MLB. After that, however, the older Baerga was around for everything, including his son’s ever-growing passion for sports.

“I feel like it was a good thing that he retired when I was so young, because after that I had my own mentor with me all the time when I was maturing and when baseball was actually more important to me,” Baerga Jr. said.

Up until he was a sophomore in high school, Baerga Jr. played a number of different sports. He said at that point his dad wasn’t pushing him to play baseball, but was letting him explore all different sports to see if baseball was the one for him. As it turned out, baseball was just in the blood.

“I used to play volleyball, basketball, ping pong, tennis, so I had more sports to decide which one I wanted to play,” he said. “But, for me, as I grew older I realized that this was the sport I love. I stopped playing other sports when I was in 10th grade. In 10th grade, that’s when he told me, ‘you need to make a decision.’”

Baerga Jr. said he had a good relationship with his dad when it comes to baseball. In high school, they would work together and talk, and in college that still happened when the two ended up going to the University of Northwestern Ohio together as a tandem.

“During high school he was an off-the-field mentor, but in college… it was a package. They took me and him to the university, so he was part of the coaching staff,” Baerga Jr. said.

Even now that Baerga Jr. is in the minor leagues and his pursuing his dream, that doesn’t mean he’s too old to take advice from his old man.

“I obviously take advice and tips from him because he played in the Major Leagues for like 15 years, so obviously I’m going to listen every time he needs to tell me something,” he said. “We have a mutual conversation. I let him know how I feel. I let him know if I want to do that… it’s not like an order. He gives me tips and advice and we just talk about it.”

It’s not just on the field advice he’s able to get from his father. It’s also help about the mental side and knowing what it takes to make it.

“He always told me, ‘be who you are, don’t try to do too much, work hard, work extra, have a good work ethic because whoever works hardest will succeed in life.’ That was his motto and his advice to me all the time,” Baerga Jr. said. “He was realistic to me. He said, ‘you’re not the type of player that is going to be a star right away. Maybe in the future you can be, but you’ve got to work for it.’ I was never a star on my team in high school or my university. I had to work all the way to my starting position because I was never starting for my teams.”

THE OPPORTUNITY

His junior season went by in 2017, and so did the MLB Draft with no phone call. The same thing happened the next season after his senior year. The draft flew by without a phone call saying Baerga Jr. had been taken by an MLB team.

The Baerga family went back to Puerto Rico, where the recent college grad never stopped working out.

“My mentality was I’m going to find a way no matter what, but it was frustrating that after the draft went my junior and my senior year and I didn’t get picked up in the draft, yeah it was frustrating,” he said. “I’m not going to quit right now. I said to (my dad) that I’ll give it maybe one or two more years in an independent league… but that’s when the call for a free agent contract came.”

It was the Atlanta Braves on the other line just a day before the season started.

“It was a last-minute thing, but thank God they gave me the opportunity. I just wanted the opportunity to play,” he said. “I’m here now and I’m thanking God that they gave me an opportunity and it’s a blessing to be here.”

It could’ve been easy to quit after the draft went by, but he was still working hard before the call came. It wasn’t just Baerga Jr. who felt the excitement.

“I was so excited. I didn’t stop training after I went back. After the draft I went back to Puerto Rico and I kept practicing there, kept training there, just standing around waiting for something to happen and the miracle happened and they called,” he said. “It was very exciting for me, for my grandfather. He is someone that calls me every day, texts me every day… I thank God I have my father and my grandfather there for me… because not everyone has those father figures to back them up or to have someone to give you advice.”

MAKING HIS FAMILY PROUD

That’s Baerga Jr.’s motivation: his family. He said he looked up to a lot of different players growing up, like Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and Ken Griffey Jr., but it’s his family that motivates Baerga Jr. to make his dreams come true.

“They’re there for me all the time. I wish to make it to the Major Leagues… it’s my dream personally, but I know it’s a dream my family has for me too and I’m going to do my best to make them proud,” he said.

No matter if he’s playing well or not, his family is always in his mind.

“It means everything to me to be here and I’m going to keep working hard to make my family proud,” he said. “I just want to thank (my family and friends) for supporting me all the time and being there for me when I’m struggling… I just want to thank them… It’s truly a blessing to be here.”

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Chris Doherty is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached a chris.doherty@martinsvillebulletin.com

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