It’s a moment that every kid who has ever played Little League baseball dreams about, but only a select few ever get to experience.
Last Saturday, former Marist High School standout Fabian Roman and current Weehawken High School senior Sal Mendez both got the chance to enjoy the chance of a lifetime as both were selected in the annual Major League Baseball Free Agent Amateur Draft.
Roman was selected in the 16th round by the Cincinnati Reds, while Mendez was taken in the 40th round by the Texas Rangers.
Both have incredible stories behind their being selected in the MLB Draft.
Roman had just transferred to Lubbock Christian University, an NAIA school in Texas, after leaving Northwestern State in Louisiana. But Roman was not able to pitch this spring due to the NCAA transfer rules.
“I was only there for the fall semester,” said Roman, who spent the prior two seasons at Odessa Junior College in Texas, where he posted a 21-4 overall record. “I got to pitch against Arkansas and Texas A&M in the fall. But I wasn’t able to pitch in the spring. I was only able to pitch intra-squad games. I thought that would be the only issue that would keep me away from getting drafted.”
During those scrimmages, Roman was clocked at throwing anywhere between 93 and 95 miles-per-hour.
A month before the draft was slated to take place Roman received a letter from the Tampa Bay Rays, citing their interest in him.
“They came the following week and watched me pitch against my own team,” Roman said. “But they said they also wanted to see me in a game setting.”
One other scout had a keen interest in Roman.
In 2009, when Roman was a senior at Marist, Ben Jones was the scout for the Kansas City Royals who recommended Roman get selected in the 36th round.
Roman elected not to sign with the Royals at the time, heading to college instead to improve his draft status.
Jones is now a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and he was set to recommend the Reds to select Roman. Sure enough, the Reds did take Roman.
“It’s a small world and really funny how it all turned out,” Roman said. “I really didn’t know I was going to get picked so high. I thought I was going to get drafted, but I had no idea where or how high. I moved up without pitching. It all worked out pretty good.”
Roman made no bones about what will happen next.
“I’m definitely signing this time,” Roman said. “I’m not going through that route again. It’s time for me to show what I have.”
It’s also ironic that it was the Cincinnati Reds that selected Roman’s high school coach, Ron Hayward, out of Bishop State Community College in Alabama in the 30th round in 2000.
“It’s crazy that the Reds picked both me and Coach Hayward,” Roman said. “We’ve lived the same life, going to different colleges from Marist and getting drafted. It feels amazing, like a dream come true. It’s definitely a blessing. When you play as a kid, you dream about this. Little do you know that it happens right around the corner.”
Mendez was following the MLB Draft over the Internet last Saturday, but basically gave up hope.
“I was actually doing my best to follow along, but I had to go to Jersey City RBI tryouts, so I had to give it up,” Mendez said. “It was at the 33rd round when I got dropped off at Pershing Field and I hadn’t heard my name. I had a feeling that if I was going to get picked, it was going to be late.”
That’s because Mendez injured his elbow pitching in the Ed Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament finals against St. Peter’s Prep in mid-May and has not been pitched since.
“I suffered a minor tear, but surgery is out of the question,” Mendez said. “I’m just rehabbing it for a month, but doctors are giving me the chance to hit. I can swing a bat. I just can’t throw. I really thought that was it, that I wasn’t going to get taken, because I couldn’t pitch.”
But when Mendez received word from his father that Rangers’ Northeast scout Takeshi Sakurayama had indeed selected Mendez in the 40th round, there was jubilation.
“There definitely was this ‘Wow’ factor,” Mendez said. “It’s something I’ve been hoping for and working towards since a very young age, from the minute I first stepped on a baseball field. I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to be a pro baseball player. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Mendez became the first Weehawken product to get selected in the MLB Draft since the New York Yankees selected catcher Fernando Fuentes in the 36th round of the 2001 MLB Draft.
“Fern gave me a call when he heard I was drafted,” Mendez said. “He knows how much of an amazing feeling it is. This town gets only a couple of good athletes who get a chance like this. I’m happy to be the one who got this chance.”
While Roman is free to sign a contract at any point, MLB rules prohibit Mendez from even discussing a contract with the Rangers until after his Weehawken senior class graduates June 21.
Mendez also has a scholarship offer to attend Howard Junior College in Texas, so he doesn’t know what he will do just yet.
“There is a slight chance I may sign,” said Mendez, whose father, Sabah, also known as Sal, Sr. was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 18th round of the 1974 MLB Draft out of Julia Richmond High School in the Bronx. “I’ve been seeing the Rangers’ scout [Sakurayama] for the last two years and we’ve built up a pretty good relationship. My father and I have an idea what it will take for me to sign. We’ll see.”
It marked the first time since Roman was taken in the 2009 draft that a Hudson County player was selected – and this year, there were two. Prior to Roman in 2009, the last two were Damien Seguen of North Bergen (46th round, Phillies, 2007) and Chris Lugo of Hoboken and Hudson Catholic (28th round, Montreal Expos, 2004).
Needless to say, last Saturday was a day to remember forever for both Roman and Mendez. One is definitely headed to pro baseball. The other may be right behind.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.