Top prospect Alfaro helps baseball emerge in Colombia
Twenty-one-year-old catcher starts for World team in All-Star Futures Game
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jorge Alfaro's father, like so many people in Alfaro's native Colombia, was a passionate soccer fan.
"Everybody in Colombia plays soccer, but my father liked all sports," said Alfaro. "He took me to a baseball game once. I really like it. I told him I wanted to play baseball."
And here Alfaro is, at the age of 21, still playing baseball, such a highly-touted catching prospect with the Texas Rangers that he started at catcher for the World Team in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday.
And for Alfaro his presence is another step in helping baseball emerge in Colombia, where it was first introduced in the late 1800s, but only recently has started to draw attention of the residents of the third largest population country in South America.
Baseball is a passion in such countries as Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico, but it has been slow in its migration to other Latin nations.
While technically Lou Castro became the first Colombian to play in the big leagues back in 1902, he actually moved to New York City at the age of 8 and learned the game in the United States.
It wasn't until 1974 when Orlando Ramirez debuted with the Los Angeles Angels that a player born and raised in Colombia got to the big leagues. There have been only 11 more since, including Atlanta pitcher Julio Teheran, Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri, White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana and Miami infielder/outfielder Donovan Solano, who are currently in the big leagues.
The Colombia appetite for baseball was whetted in the 1990s by the big league efforts of Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria.
Renteria, who broke in with the Marlins in 1996, was a five-time All-Star in his 16-year career. He was the starting shortstop for the 1997 World Series champion Marlins, and he appeared in postseasons with St. Louis, Boston and San Francisco.
Cabrera, whose brother Jolbert also played in the big leagues, broke in with Montreal in 1997, and he was a two-time Gold Glove winner in a 15-year career. He was acquired by Boston in July 2004, and was the Red Sox's starting shortstop down the stretch en route to the franchise's first World Series championship since 1918. Cabrera also appeared in the postseason with the Angels, White Sox, Twins and Reds.
Renteria, in fact, is so committed to growing the sport in Colombia that a professional winter league in the country is sponsored by The Renteria Foundation, which has allowed the league to grow since its inception in 1997 after similar winter programs were short-lived in two earlier endeavors.
"I remember hearing about them and seeing pictures of them in the newspaper when I was growing up," said Alfaro. "Sometimes we would even get a game on television.
"I would see them and think, 'I would like to be there. I would like to be like them.'"
Alfaro is on the right path. Converted from third base, which he played in Colombia, to catcher by the Rangers, he is one of the top-ranked catching prospects in the game, hitting .258 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs in 84 games at Myrtle Beach in the Class A Advanced Carolina League this year.
And Alfaro has already impacted the life of at least one other young Colombian. His younger brother, Johandro, also a catcher, signed with the Chicago White Sox last week.
Both Alfaro and his brother benefited from the efforts of Dairo Salsedo, who runs an amateur team in their native Sincelejo, the capital off Sucre, located 125 miles from Cartagena, the center of baseball in Colombia.
"He was our first coach," said Alfaro. "He taught us how to play. He talks to us all the time."
Alfaro and his brother were willing students.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.