To all the people who helped me reach my dream,
When I was a young boy, my dad, Pedro Borbon Sr, played in the big leagues for the Cincinnati Reds. I lived with my mother and my brother in the Dominican Republic, but I would visit my dad in the summer. He would take me over to a fountain near the field and give me some quarters.
He would say, “Think of a dream. Then, make a wish and throw the quarters in the fountain.”
At that time, I didn’t have much of a dream. While growing up in Dominican Republic, my dad was rarely around. When I went to play baseball in the field with other kids, everyone expected me to be great because of my dad. It was big shoes to fill. And while I had good aim and could throw the ball, I had no confidence. Truthfully, I always thought that I would one day run one of my father’s businesses – never did I think I, too, could or would play professional baseball.
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My life completely changed when my dad abandoned us and started a new family in the United States. I went from being a rich kid to having nothing – not even essentials, like food and clothing. I told my mom I couldn’t live like that and wanted to move to the United States, where I thought I would have more opportunities to help my family. That’s when some of you began to come into my life.
At 14 years old, I moved to the Bronx in New York City. It was not an easy place to live in the ’80s. There were times when I thought I was stepping on glass and it was crack bottles. I saw people get shot right in front of me. There were nights where a husband was beating his wife next door. There was nothing I could do because if I called the cops, I would have been a snitch and I would have been in trouble. I never knew if I would make it at home at night. The city was filled with so much drugs and violence.
I attended DeWitt Clinton High School. One day, I was walking to the lunchroom and the security guard asked to see my ID to make sure it was my time to have lunch. I showed him my ID and he saw my name, Pedro Borbon.
He goes, “Pedro Borbon, are you related to the baseball player?”
I said, “Yeah, that’s my dad.”
He said, “What the hell are you doing in the Bronx?”
I explained that I lived with an uncle and I was there for school.
He said, “You don’t play baseball?”
I told him, “No.”
He asked me to try out and I said no. So, he waited for me after school and took me over to the field. He asked me to throw a few pitches. So, I probably threw about 15 and 14 of them were strikes.
That’s when he said, “You’re pitching for me Friday.”
He was the JV coach and wasn’t taking no for an answer.
That first game, I went seven innings and I think I gave up one hit and struck out 14 or 15. At that moment, a dream was born and all of a sudden, I had some confidence. My JV coach is among you – the people who helped me realize my dream – and I want to say thank you.
After winning Rookie of the Year on JV, I met Steve Nathanson, my varsity coach, the following season. He took me under his wing and taught me the game – everything from the rules to how to throw a changeup. He helped me fall in love with the game and stay focused. More and more, I started to believe I could make it, which made me want to put in the work. My uncle was a Vietnam vet. He used to go jogging every morning and I started to join him. In high school, I never drank or did drugs because I never wanted to do anything that could affect my game. My work ethic was second to none and remained that way for the years to come. Coach Nathanson is among all of you and I want to say thank you.
During high school, a big-time sports agent named Jerry Davis gave me a job, paying $150 a week. All I did was pick up newspapers and talk baseball. When I finished high school, the Milwaukee Brewers drafted me in the 35th round. I knew people who got drafted in the sixth or seventh rounds and I was better than them. But Milwaukee told me they thought I needed more experience and suggested I go to college. They told me if I wanted to sign, all they could offer me was a glove and a plane ticket.
I wanted to quit right there. I didn’t want to do anything. But thank God Jerry Davis wouldn’t let me give up. He called Ranger Junior College in Texas and got me an opportunity there. Jerry is among all of you and I want to say thank you.
In Texas, my coach, Don Flowers, turned me from a boy to a man. He was the first person to be real tough on me and yell at me. I was not into school, so he signed me up for welding and auto mechanics to get me enough credits to play. But I used to fall asleep in the cars during my auto mechanic class. One day, the professor called Coach Flowers while I was sleeping and he came to my class, pulled me out of the car and nearly killed me. That day at practice, he made me go on a five-and-a-half mile run in 100-degree weather. If I didn’t make a certain time, I would have had to run it all over. Coach Flowers taught me discipline. He was among all of you and I want to say thank you.
After my time at junior college, I got drafted by the White Sox. I had a great rookie ball. They took me to instructional ball the year after, but one of the coaches didn’t like me.
I asked him a simple question.
I said, “How come I am going back to rookie ball after spring training?”
He looked at me and said, “Are you better than those guys?
I said, “I don’t think I’m better, but I have better numbers.”
He responded, “Those guys got drafted high. They are going to play. We don’t have room for you.”
I said, “So, what am I doing here?”
The White Sox released me the next day and I went back to Texas. By this time, I was married and I needed a job. So, I worked in an oil field as a fire watcher, sitting around all night with a fire extinguisher waiting for somebody or something to light up on fire.
For a while, I was lost. I didn’t talk to my mom for a year and a half because I was too embarrassed.
While realistically, I thought my baseball career was over, I didn’t stop running or training. At times, I used to play catch with my then-wife’s grandfather.
One day he said to me, “Man, you are throwing harder than usual. You need to go try out for a team.”
He didn’t let me stop believing in myself. That is why he is also among you and I want to say thank you.
I ended up playing for a summer league team. That’s where I realized my fastball went from 87-88mph to 93-94mph. The Atlanta Braves signed me, which turned out to be my big opportunity.
Immediately, I had success in the minors as a starter, but they threw me in the bullpen.
I told them, “OK, you throw me in the bullpen, then I am going to be the best reliever you have ever had.”
After our team won the championship, I was packing to go home when my manager from double-A told me I needed to go to Florida because they might call me up.
I went for two weeks and didn’t get a call-up.
Finally, I’m running in the outfield and one of the coaches comes over and says, “Hey now, you’ve been bitching about going home. Well, it’s time for you to go.”
So, I’m pissed off and ask, “Where’s my plane ticket?”
He said, “Go get it from the office. And by the way, say hi to the guys for me.”
I was like, “What guys? Who do you know in Texas?”
He said, “You’re not going to Texas. You’re going to the big leagues.”
I thought to myself, “Holy shit!”
I didn’t believe it and I was almost late for my flight. I didn’t even have proper clothes. This guy, who was way smaller than me, lent me his clothes and I looked like a freaking ballerina wearing his shirt.
After 1992 I started making a little more money and I was able to help my mom and my brothers a bit more, which was my goal all along.
I had some incredible moments throughout my major league career, including striking out Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Tony Gwynn. In 1995, I pitched in and won a World Series. But of all the moments I had in my nine-year major league baseball career, which included five different teams, my absolute favorite memory was when I went to Cincinnati for the first time as a major league player. The hotel was in front of the fountain that I threw quarters in with my dad as a child.
I went down there and threw a bunch of change in the fountain, only to realize that I was finally living the dream that that little boy couldn’t even see until he met all of you.
From the many uncles who took me in and treated me like their son to my teammates, friends and coaches who supported me and listened to me through the years, there are so many of you that contributed to me making it.
To each one of you, I just want to say THANK YOU.