“I was never good in basketball,” he said to the Asian Journal as the Giants were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles.
The tan skin Giant is one of the few Major League Baseball players with Filipino heritage. Along with teammate starting pitcher Tim Lincecum, who is half Pinoy, Chris Aguila formerly of the New York Mets, and Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays, there aren’t a lot of Filipinos playing in America’s past time.
It’s a reason why Espineli takes a certain pride of being a full Filipino in the Major Leagues.
“Since I’ve been here, I realized how great it is to be a different culture and different race it just shows that all cultures can play this sport and any sport,” said Espineli.
Baseball’s done a great job of reaching out to all the different cultures, added Lincecum, who dedicated a game to his Filipino grandfather after his passing last year.
“It’s great that baseball’s expanding their horizons and they are all over the world,” he said.
Both Espineli’s parents are from the Philippines. His mother is originally from Lumban, Laguna. He said he’s been to the home country a few times, the last time being when he was 13-years-old.
“I remember the scenery and small villages in the mountains, and the trees and that it was pretty hot when I was there,” he said.
Espineli was born and bred in Houston, Texas. Espineli said he was only one of two Filipinos in his High School. Growing up, baseball was the game the kids played in his neighborhood so naturally he gravitated towards the sport and dreamt about playing professionally in the Major Leagues.
And about two weeks ago, his dream came true.
“This is something that I’ve been working for my whole life,” he said about being called up to play for the Giants.
After playing college baseball for the University of Texas and Texas Christian University, the San Francisco Giants drafted the left-handed pitcher in the 14th round of the 2004 draft.
According to MLB.com, Espineli’s scouting report that year compared him to ex-major league pitcher John Candeleria, a former 20 game-winner and World Series champion. Espineli’s “tall, lanky” frame, side arm delivery and three-pitch combination – a sinking fastball clocked at 89 miles-per-hour, a backdoor curveball and sinking changeup – made him a good draft choice for the Giants.
“My pitching style is about trying to fool the hitter,” said Espineli. “I like to confuse the hitters with what I throw. I don’t throw really fast; my pitches are usually in the high 80’s. I just try to get it [the ball] to sink or slide.”
After a few years in the Minor Leagues as a reliever and starting pitcher, the Giants called up Espineli in mid-July after he posted a 2.06 earned run average with 43 strikeouts in 34 games for the teams Triple A affiliate in Fresno. During his time in Fresno, Espineli also was a Pacific Coast League All-Star and named to the Olympic USA baseball team.
Espineli said he was surprised about being named to the Olympics but opted to stay in the majors to help the Giants playoff run in a wide-open National League West division.
“That opportunity came out of nowhere,” he said about the Olympics. “I would have been definitely proud to represent this country but now I’m in the majors and I’m hoping to stay here as long as possible.”
Now that he’s on the Giants, he’s hoping to contribute to the pitching staff in anyway he can even if it means humiliatingly carrying a Barbie backpack to the bullpen in front of thousands of people to appease the veterans on the team.
Hazing is what veteran’s do to rookies, and Espineli knows it’s not over.
“I know it’s going to get a lot worse in September,” he said.
So far Espineli has played in five games as a reliever for the Giants. He’s pitched 5.2 innings striking out four hitters and allowing two walks. He’s also given up four earned runs but to Espineli, it’s a learning experience.
“Every time I’m out there it’s nerve racking,” he said. “You’re in front of thousands of fans. Everyone back home is going to watch it. It’s exciting but it’s also nervous at the same time.”
He also knows there’s a little added pressure on him being a full Filipino playing in front of a team with a large Filipino fan base.
“It’s great that we have a built in audience especially in the Bay area,” he said. “There’s a lot of Filipinos there. Especially for a country not known to produce a lot of baseball players, it just adds more fans to the sport.”
Espineli said he hopes to stay in the majors for a long time. He also mentioned that one of his goals is to increase the popularity of baseball by hosting baseball camps in the Philippines.
“I definitely plan on going back soon and that’s definitely something I would check out,” he said. “I know it’s not one of the bigger sports there so anything to get a sport like baseball going to a country will be a big deal and something I would definitely look into.”
He advises young FilAms and Filipinos pursuing a career in major league baseball to “keep working on it and eventually you’ll get to the top.”