first filipino in big leagues

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Giants rookie pitcher Geno Espineli has heard his share of stereotypical cracks about wacky left-handers. Even so, he doesn’t think it at all odd that among the personal effects he brought to San Francisco from the minor leagues was a pair of old-school style stirrup socks. “These are extremely tough to find — nobody wears old-fashioned stirrups any more,” said Espineli, who favors the high pants leg baseball look with plenty of contrasting black and white stocking. “It would have taken at least three weeks to find some.” If it sounds like Espineli, 25, is a one-of-a-kind baseball player. He is – and not just for being likely the first player to travel with his own pair of leggings. When the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Eugene Macalalag Espineli made his debut with San Francisco on July 23 with 0.2 innings of perfect relief against the visiting Washington Nationals, many believe he became the first full-blooded Filipino to ever play in the Major Leagues. Other baseball players with Filipino heritage include Bobby Balcena, Bobby Chouinard and Brandon Villafuerte. Espineli’s mother, Thelma and late father, Leo, were both born in the Philippines. Espineli and his two older sisters were born and raised in Houston, Texas. “It’s really an honor — being the first is an accomplishment,” said Espineli, who was selected by San Francisco in the 14th round of the 2004 amateur draft out of Texas Christian University. “Baseball is not the biggest sport in the Philippines, but maybe I can inspire some kids and spread the sport’s popularity there.” After four up-and-down seasons of minor league ball, Espineli burst into prominence this season when he made a full-time move to relief pitching. First, Espineli was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game after posting a 2.61 ERA in 36 relief outings for the Giants’ minor league club in Fresno. Then the southpaw was named to the U.S. Olympic baseball team, a week before his call-up to the Giants. “It felt like I was progressing every season, and I thought my time was going to come this year,” Espineli said. “But it’s a lot sooner than I thought. I’m slowly letting it all sink in.” Espineli’s Beijing travel plans were scuttled when manager Bochy summoned him to pitch in the Giants’ bullpen. But he’s not complaining. “I’m more than happy to be here now and hopefully I can stay,” he said. “It was an honor just to be named to the Olympic team. It was a fantastic opportunity because it’s the last Olympics for baseball. But making the big leagues is my dream. It’s a good dilemma to have.” This is actually the second time Espineli has been considered for an Olympics baseball squad. Four years ago, his college coach received a call asking if Espineli would consider trying out for the games. The only problem: It was an Italian baseball coach who called. “I get that all the time,” Espineli said with a smile. “It’s the name. People ask if I’m Italian or Spanish — everyone’s last guess is Filipino.” Espineli, who makes his home in Austin, still has family on his mother’s side in the town of Lumbun, about an hour outside of Manila. “My family is everything to me,” said Espineli, whose father passed away when he was young. “My mom retired about five years ago so she’s been able to travel around and see me pitch. She’s been my biggest fan.” Asians and Asian Americans who have played for the San Francisco Giants Masanori Murakami (Full Japanese) RHP 1964-65 Atlee Hammaker (Japanese Mother) LHP 1982-90 Tsuyoshi Shinjo (Full Japanese) OF 2002 – Current Dave Roberts (Japanese Mother) OF 2007 – Current Keiichi Yabu (Full Japanese) RHP 2008 – Current Geno Espineli (Full Filipino American) LHP 2008 – Current

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This entry was posted on August 5, 2008 by in Sports and tagged , .
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