Q&A with Lake County Captains pitching coach Rigo Beltran
Originally born in Mexico, Rigo Beltran moved to the San Diego area at about six years old and it was there that his baseball dream started. He grew up with “Fernando Mania” as he idolized Fernando Valenzuela when he pitched for the Dodgers in the 1980s and found some success himself as a pitcher pitching 16 seasons in pro baseball from 1991-2006 before retiring to become a coach in 2007.
Beltran spent the last seven years with the Cincinnati Reds as a pitching coach in their minor league system before signing with the Indians this season where he is the pitching coach at Low-A Lake County.
Q: You grew in the San Diego area and even played some junior college ball in the area, so how is that you ended up playing baseball at the University of Wyoming?
Rigo Beltran (RB): What happened is I went to a junior college in San Diego. I guess our junior college coach and the University of Wyoming coach had a good relationship as he had a few guys that were down there. They gave me a full ride and gave me an opportunity to play first base and pitch. They paid for all of my school and were the only school to offer anything, so I took it.
Q: After a nice career at Wyoming you were selected in the 26th round of the 1991 Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. It was over 20 years ago, but do you still remember the feeling you had of being drafted?
RB: Yeah, I remember the call. Prior to that day I was hoping to get drafted, but I know San Francisco and Cincinnati called me and asked me if I was interested in playing pro ball. I said yeah and they said they were going to take me as a first baseman, so I was excited about it. I then got a call from the Cardinals which was a team I had never heard from and the first thing they told me is congratulations you are drafted by the Cardinals and you can forget about your first baseman’s glove as you are a pitcher now. I was so excited though as I was finally able to do what I dreamed to do as a little kid.
Q: Some teams were interested in you as a first baseman while others were interested in you as a pitcher. How much experience did you have on the mound in college?
RB: I pitched a lot actually. I was one of the top starters there. I threw once a week and when I did not pitch I would play first base, outfield or DH.
Q: After getting drafted you spent six years in the minors and you were 27 years old before you received your first call to the big leagues. What was that experience like when you finally got the call?
RB: It was exciting. You never know how you are going to react when you are told. I just felt like I had a smile on my face the entire time I was being told, and then I called everybody I knew. I didn’t know what to do. I called my wife and talked to my kids and talked to my mom. I was just ecstatic because of finally reaching the goal I was shooting for so many years.
Q: You had been in the minors for some time, so was that call to the big leagues unexpected? Or, did you have an inkling that you were going to get that call?
RM: I got off to a really good start that year. What happened is one of the left-handed relievers got hurt and I had just pitched that day, but nobody got called up. So two days later it was my day to throw a bullpen and my pitching coach told me ‘let’s throw a light bullpen as we want to make sure to keep you fresh’ and when he said that I kind of put one and one together and thought that it might be happening. After the game they pulled me in the office and that is when they told me I was going to the big leagues. So I kind of had a feeling, but it was not confirmed until after the game.
Q: You spent 16 years as a pitcher in the pros, a great majority of that time in the minor leagues. Have you shared your past experiences with your players that a call to the big leagues may not happen as fast as some would like but that with hard work and the right opportunity that there is always hope?
RB: I have had several of those conversations. You are trying to voice your past experiences to some of these guys. One of the things I have told them is I was six years in the minor leagues and even had a surgery in two of those years so it really set me back. The key is to keep working hard, being persistent and believing in the process to develop into a major leaguer. Especially the guys with good arms who are flamethrowers they tend to develop a little later so they have to be more patient, so those are guys I talk to a lot. Or even left-handers as they generally tend to develop later too. You try to stay positive and give them words of encouragement. I am probably one of a thousand stories of people who don’t make it to the big leagues right away. You are not only trying to maximize their full potential physically, but mentally trying to make sure they are in the right frame of mind.
Q: You mentioned a few injuries during the first six years of your career. What happened?
RB: Luckily they were not serious ones, but I had bone spurs removed in 1992 and then I had the same surgery in 1995. So there was a span of four years where my arm did not feel that great. I still threw it but you don’t get the same results when you are throwing with pain.
Q: What do you remember most about your time as a player in the minors?
RB: I think what I remember the most was playing in different cities and with different players. When you are first there as a player all you can think about is getting up to the big leagues, but then when I got older I realized I am doing something I enjoy and if it is meant to be it is going to happen. I enjoyed traveling to the different cities and getting to meet the different people. I was fortunate enough when I did get to the big leagues I got to play with my childhood idol as we were teammates. Growing up I was a Fernando Venezuela fan and then when I was with the Cardinals we were both teammates, which was cool to be right next to his locker and go out to eat and do things with him which is probably one of the best memories I have as a professional player.
Q: Your playing days ended in 2006 and you quickly became a coach. What do you miss most about playing?
RB: The thing that I miss the most is the competition between you and the batter. The constant adjustments you have to make and the adjustments the hitter makes against you. You just don’t get that adrenaline anywhere else. I think the closest you ever get to that, at least for me, is when my kids are pitching. I do miss the competition and the adrenaline you get.
Q: You moved right from a playing career into a coaching role with the Reds in 2007. How did you get involved so quickly?
RB: I never said I wanted to be a coach. When I was playing my last two years I was playing in Mexico and the Cincinnati Reds contacted me and told me that there was an opening for a pitching coach and asked if I was interested. I told them to give me a week to think about it. I didn’t call them back and they called me and asked me what my situation was and I told them I needed a couple more days. Eventually I realized I was at the end of my career as a player and it was time to start thinking about the future, and it seemed like it was a good fit and that is when I decided to be a coach and take the job with the Reds.
Q: After seven seasons with the Reds from 2007-2013 you signed to be a coach with the Indians last offseason. How did you and the Indians connect?
RB: What happened is the Reds did not renew my contract so I became a free agent. I ended up sending my resume out to different teams and was fortunate enough that the Indians were one of the teams that responded. From the first day I went into Cleveland for a staff interview with Ross [Atkins] and Carter [Hawkins] and Ruben [Niebla], I remember talking to my wife and saying this is an organization I want to be in. I like how they think. They are really nice people, they are family oriented, they are ahead of the curve as far as looking for things to improve, and I just really liked the direction the organization was going. It is just a good group of people that run this organization.
Q: You haven’t even been with the organization for a year yet so you are probably still learning about so many of the players and such, but do you feel like you are finally starting to settle in and getting to know your players?
RB: At first it was a little bit difficult. I had to learn new names and faces, but also their deliveries, personalities, how to approach them and when and when not to say things. It took me awhile to develop that feel on how to approach players, but in the second half of the season I feel like I created a pretty good relationship with each individual pitcher and I am happy with the progress they are making.
Q: What do you like most about working with young players?
RB: I feel like I can make more of an impact the younger they are because they are still so raw, they are still trying to understand their mechanics, they are still trying to understand the mental side of the game, and emotionally they are still immature. So I feel like I can make an impact in all phases of the game. At the lower levels it is a great span of influence that you can have.
Q: This was your first experience in the Midwest League and at Lake County. What do you think about the organization?
RB: I love it. It is a great clubhouse, we have a good manager, hitting coach and good staff overall. The players have been great. I know that we started off slow but we [played better in the second half]. The field is nice and the travel is good. I just feel like I landed in a good place. They always say when one door closes a better door opens and I really feel like that happened with me.
Q: What do you think overall about your staff this season that you have had to work with?
RB: I am very happy with them. We have a lot of guys with a lot of ability and a lot of upside. Early on we had some struggles, but as far as a learning process I think we have done well. Guys are starting to find their identity of who they are as pitchers and what they can and can’t do. I think we are starting to see the results of that.
Q: What did you ultimately want to accomplish with your pitchers this season?
RB: The goal is for them to continue to grow in the direction they are going in. Again, it is a process. The process is to be ready and prepared and make sure that they are better at the end of the season than at the start of the season. My goal was to continue to grow them not only on the mental side of the game but with the mechanical side of the game and to continue to identify what kind of pitcher they are and the overall growth that comes from that.
Q: What would you be doing had Rigo Beltran not ended up in professional baseball?
RB: It is funny you say that because coming out of high school I was the co-Player of the Year in my district and I did not get any offers to go anywhere, so I had already applied to go to San Diego State and be a dentist. Then five days before school started my junior college coach called me to see if I wanted to continue playing baseball. I went on campus to my junior college and changed my mind about going to San Diego State, went to the junior college and my whole life changed with one phone call.
Q: Looking back, what have you taken out of all of your time in pro baseball?
RB: What I took out of it was a lot of life experiences. I traveled all over the world. I played in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and the United States. I was fortunate to be able to share those experiences and trips with my family, so not only did I get to travel but my family got to travel. I got to see the world doing something that I love and I am fortunate to still be involved in the game that I love.
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