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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Luis Lopez: Baseball's Timeless Wonder

With rapidly escalating salaries, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep in mind that people play baseball for reasons other than a paycheck. The love of the game is still strong with many, and perhaps none more so than Luis Lopez, who has played for over 20 different teams in his career, is currently in his 20th season and still going strong.

The right-handed Lopez went undrafted following a solid career with Coastal Carolina University but latched on with the independent leagues, suiting up for two teams in 1995. Playing third base, he batted an impressive combined .325 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 59 games, which earned a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Over the next eight years, Lopez put up outstanding numbers, including a 1997 season that ended with a .358 batting average, 11 home runs and 99 RBIs. However, he became stuck at the Triple-A level until 2001 when he finally made his MLB debut with Toronto. Appearing in 41 games, he batted .244 with three home runs and 10 RBIs.

Among Lopez’s highlights in Toronto were his second major league hit being a home run off the Seattle Mariners’ Jamie Moyer on May 13, and a three game series against the Tampa Bay Rays from July 3-5 that saw him go a combined 8-for-12 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs.

Despite proving he could play in the majors, his only other time on the game’s biggest stage was an 11 game stint with the Montreal Expos in 2004. He has played in the organizations of the Atlanta Braves and the Oakland Athletics, and also spent time playing in Japan and Mexico but returned to the independent leagues- where it all started for him- in 2007 and has been there since.

Now 40, Lopez is still plugging away, playing for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. He is in his seventh season with the team, the longest tenure he has ever had with any one stop in his career. Although he has perhaps slowed down a bit from his headier days, he still sees regular playing time. In 53 games, he is hitting .218 with two home runs and 18 RBIs, and was even recently managed for a day by Pete Rose, who made a promotional appearance with the team.

Lopez’s major league stats (.228, three home runs and 10 RBIs in 52 games) may seem meager but what he has done in his other opportunities show the impact he has had on the game. In his 2,154 career non-MLB games, he has hit a combined .293 with 170 home runs, 1,253 RBIs and 2,346 base hits, all while garnering numerous awards and distinctions. For more information on his career numbers, make sure to check out his page.

Back in 2011, I had an opportunity to ask Lopez some questions. Check out what baseball’s timeless dynamo had to say—and don’t count out seeing him play for a team near you sometime in the future.

Luis Lopez Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: The Yankees. I have a few players; Edgar Martinez, Julio Franco, Tony Gwynn, Juan Gonzalez, Cal Ripken; because they all played hard and all could hit.

Can you describe what your first signing experience out of college was like?: Thank God for independent leagues. If not I would have never had a chance.

Who has been your most influential coach or manager, and why?: Wow! There are a few. If it wasn't for minor league managers like Rocket Wheeler and JJ Cannon, I never would have gotten a chance. Then there's Buck Martinez, my first big league manager. Also, our assistant GM was Dave Stewart. He felt I should have been in the bigs way before I got there.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Playing in Yankee Stadium in front of about 30 family members. Growing up in New York, it was a dream come true. 

How much does the thought of getting back to the majors drive you to continue playing?: Every day. I know I still can hit and I have the mentality to be able to come off the bench or spot start. A lot of my friends in the bigs still feel I can do it at that level. 

If you could do anything differently about your baseball career to date, what would that be?: I probably wouldn't have left Atlanta to go to Japan. It was a great experience but I went there too young. Atlanta wanted me to be the righty off the bench, and they let one of the players I looked up to walk; Julio Franco. He signed with the Mets. 

Can you describe what your experience was like during your stints in the majors?: Great! Everything you worked for. I have great stories. One I will always remember was my first at bat. I was intentionally walked! Hahaha.

How long do you think you will continue to play professionally?: As long as I keep producing and that fire is there, I will play. And it's still there! 

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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