Eyes Of The Veteran

Mexico outfielder Jon Weber’s had to fight for everything he’s accomplished in his career. Signed by the Reds as a nondrafted free agent in 1999, Weber was released by Cincinnati a year later. That’s when he found himself in independent ball–first the Frontier and then the Northern League.

Weber batted .309 in 204 at-bats at Fargo-Moorehead in 2003 before the Athletics signed him and sent him to Modesto. He then moved onto the Dodgers–serving as a veteran presence for the prospect-laden 2005 club at Double-A Jacksonville. Weber finished 2006 in Triple-A–first at Las Vegas, then Tucson after being signed by the Diamondbacks.

Weber played at two stops this winter–Hermosillo (Mexico) and Caribes (Venezuela) and we stopped to chat about what it’s like to be so close to the big leagues you can almost taste it, and the flip-side of being an American player in Latin America.

BA: Not just one, but two stops in two different countries this winter . . . and you played winter ball last year. You like it that much?

Jon Weber: Just being able to have the opportunity to go to another country is a treat in itself. The baseball–it doesn’t get any better. It’s a little different than the States, it’s kind of backwards in terms of pitching and the games seem to be a lot longer. It’s really phenomenal. It’s something you dream about when you’re a little kid. You’re playing with all big league players from every country in one place. It’s unbelievable.

BA: Hermosillo had such a great run through the regular season, the postseason and the finals and now you guys are down 0-2. What’s the feeling in the clubhouse like?

JW: It’s not fun. Friday was one of those games–we didn’t show up, we made mistakes, we didn’t hit, we didn’t pitch. When you’re not doing anything right, you’re not going to win.

BA: So back home in the States, you see the Latin guys and how difficult it is for them to make that transition even from a cultural standpoint, let alone fit in and feel comfortable in the clubhouse. What’s that been like for you here, now that you’ve been in that role–as the foreign guy in a totally different atmosphere? The fans were chanting ‘gringo’ in your direction after you misplayed a ball in the outfield . . . how tough is that to deal with?

JW: It doesn’t change anything. They say the ‘gringo’ and all this stuff. They want to point the finger at somebody, and of course they’re going to point it at us. And it happens in the States–when something goes wrong on the field or in the clubhouse, they’re going to point the finger at somebody and usually it’s the Latin player. It goes on here and goes on in the States. If you just take care of your job and take care of yourself, you don’t have to worry about anything. We’re already under a magnifying glass by coming to their country, representing their country and it’s like your back’s against the wall at all times. You just have to keep playing baseball. These guys in the clubhouse are great–Vinny (Castilla) and (Erubiel) Durazo–I could sit here and talk about each and every guy on our team and they’ve greeted me with open arms. I love them. I’ll never forget them, because it means so much to me to say I played with them.

BA: So getting back to the States, you heading to Tucson this year?

JW: (The Diamondbacks) didn’t give me big league camp . . . I don’t know why. But like I’ve been doing my whole life and my whole career–I’ve never been a prospect . . . but I’ve worked my ass off to get to Triple-A and I’m right there. I’m knocking on the door. God-willing and with a little luck, they’re going to open the door and let me experience a day or a month or a year, whatever the case may be. But I can’t focus on that–I have to play baseball. I got a family to feed. They depend on me, so I gotta play. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about (getting called up)–believe me, I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights–but it’s my passion and it’s what I do. I’m a baseball player.”