The PawSox knocked off Indianapolis in a Wednesday matinee. The Indians boast the I.L.’s best record while Pawtucket is locked in a three way race in the North Division. The PawSox got a much-needed lift from veteran right hander, Nelson Figueroa. In his PawSox debut, the 38 year old worked 5 innings, scattering 5 hits, allowing 2 runs. Ironically, Figueroa had already pitched against both teams in 2012. The well travelled Brooklyn native takes his newest assignment in stride. “I’ve moved so many times now, I’ve come to expect it. I’m a veteran of this game and I’ve come to realize the business side of it. I’m excited about my chance with the PawSox.”
Figueroa seems to embrace the lifestyle that has seen him pitch all obver the world. “That’s the beauty of it. 18 years ago I got the chance to play professional baseball. Put on a uniform and live the dream. I’ve been very blessed. I’ve got tremendous family and friends who’ve supported this journey and continue to support me, every step of the way.”
Growing up in a “concrete jungle”, Figueroa says it wasn’t always easy to find a spot to play. But, it’s even harder now. “I was just home in Brooklyn when the call came from the Red Sox. A lot of the fields I played on aren’t even there anymore. You realize how hard it is for kids these days to get a break. I start thinking about how lucky I was to get this far. Even to get signed. With so many people playing this great game, to have the opportunity to do what I’ve gotten to do…I got a chance to live my childhood dream by making it to the Major Leagues. I’ve worn the uniform of the Mets, which was my favorite team growing up.”
Although it’s his first stint with the Red Sox, it isn’t his first time pitching in Boston. Figueroa starred at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass. “I was up there for a tournament when I was 17. The pitching coach spotted me. He started asking me questions. Asked me about my grades. I went back to school and talked to one of my deans. He said ‘funny, you don’t even look Jewish’. I did my research, discovering it was one of the best places in the country to get an education. It worked out. I got a chance to pitch right away.”
Nelson Figueroa is grateful for every opportunity he’s received. Whether it was pitching for the Mets, or in Taiwan, he has appreciated every moment.. “It’s all surreal. It’d make a good book.” He continued. “I look at it all as a blessing. So many guys I came up with would have a setback, and that was it for their playing careers. I seem to have been very fortunate. I live the dream for all the guys who had to play independent ball, have surgery or couldn’t make it back.”
Figueroa has fit right in. He’s been at it a long time. “Once you get past the first day, putting names and faces together, it’s like kindergarten. Baseball has a universal language that takes care of itself.”
He shared one last story about his involvement post-9/11. The native New Yorker saw a need and took action. “Right after the tragedy, I was messing around with my computer. I put together an image of a baseball and the flag and I added a phrase. ‘For all the victims and the heroes, united we stand.” Lots of major League teams used the shirts as Batting Practice tops. Fans started seeing them and asked where they cou;ld get them.” They started a website and got items donated from Big League players. Selling the shirts helped raise $450,000 in a matter of two weeks. Majestic Sports took over, offering Figueroa royalties for each item sold. He adamantly refused. “I wanted ALL proceeds to go to the families of the victims.” He was amazed. “One day in New York City, we sold 10,000 T-Shirts in 15 minutes. It was overwhelming. I’ve been very fortunate. I was glad I had the chance to give back.”
That good karma continues to follow Nelson Figueroa as he writes the next chapter with the PawSox.