Monday, May 13, 2013

Ode to the great Balbino

There was a time when writers and broadcasters came up with athletes' nicknames.  This may have been their job, or they may have merely thought that this was their job -- since writers and broadcasters have egos just as large as the players they cover -- but they certainly set their minds in motion to the task.  So it was that Joe DiMaggio became "Joltin' Joe" and "The Yankee Clipper," Stan Musial became "Stan the Man," and Willie Mays became "The Say Hey Kid."

Credit Taylor Hone, Lansing Lugnuts
Both Balbino Fuenmayor and I joined the Lugnuts in 2009.  Balbino was just a kid, relatively -- 19 years old.  The Lugnuts athletic trainer at the time, Dan McIntosh, told me that Balbino would work as hard as anyone on the team in order to improve.  He had met the young Venezuelan the previous year, in the Gulf Coast League, and was impressed.

"The Great Balbino" nickname came quickly, a play off of Babe Ruth's moniker, "The Great Bambino."  He was big but baby-faced like Ruth.  His power was evident.  And the name... what a name!  Sit back and enjoy the sound of Bal-bi-no Fuen-may-or rolling off your tongue.

It is now four years later and Balbino Fuenmayor is still a Lugnut.  With the seasons' passing have come moments of hot streaks and glory for Fuenmayor -- and also moments of cold spells and frustration.  At times, I have heard the nickname get turned on itself, spoke with acrid sarcasm.  I understand; Fuenmayor received a hefty signing bonus from then-Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi.  He was once ranked among the Blue Jays' top prospects.  He is no longer consider as such.  I grant you this.  If you're a Blue Jays fan, your attention has long since turned elsewhere.

If you're a Lugnuts fan, though, it is different.  Do you root for the Lugs to win?  Then you understand exactly what Fuenmayor means to this team.  To wit:  A 7-for-16 performance with two long home runs in Lansing's season-opening four-game series at Lake County.  The Lugs won the final three games, the last time that the team has been above .500 this year.  Hitless in 37 straight at-bats, as the Lugnuts sunk to the cellar.  A stint on the Disabled List, as the team's fortune grew worse.  And then -- off the DL.  A dramatic two-run homer to beat Beloit.  A game-breaking three-run triple to top Great Lakes.  Heck, you could chalk up significant moments in five of the Lugs' 11 wins this season to the Great Balbino.

Second baseman Christian Lopes is an honest to goodness prospect.  He hits safely nearly every single day.  I will not tell you that Balbino Fuenmayor is better than Christian Lopes.

I will tell you that when I see Balbino Fuenmayor in the clubhouse or the dugout before games, he has the same message.  It begins with a smile and a handshake (or a fist-bump).  It ends with the vow, "We're going to win today."  His sincerity is not to be doubted.

I have met Balbino's beloved wife.  I have met his beautiful baby.

I hereby confess my bias.

Regardless of what may come, Balbino Fuenmayor will always be Great to me.


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Have you bought The Baseball Thesaurus yet?  If you have, bring it to the ballpark and I'll personally inscribe it for you.

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