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Major league career is payback for Alfredo Amezaga

DODGERS

The utility player has come a long way since his parents sent him from Mexico to Miami 18 years ago. He is battling for a roster spot with the Dodgers.

February 28, 2013|By Kevin Baxter

PHOENIX — The money, all his parents had, was more than Alfredo Amezaga had ever seen.

So when Alberto and Maria del Carmen Amezaga called their youngest child in their room and showed him the pile of pesos they had gathered on their bed — money to send him from Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, to the U.S. to learn English and make something of himself — he wasn't sure how to react.

Eighteen years later, he shakes his head at the memory.

"I can't imagine that," says Amezaga, a 35-year-old veteran trying to win a roster spot with the Dodgers. "No one can predict the future. You didn't know if it was going to be a bad move."

It was a good move. Four years after leaving Mexico for Miami, Amezaga was drafted by the Angels, one pick before the St. Louis Cardinals took Albert Pujols. It was a major step in a career that has spanned nine seasons, four big league teams and earned him more than $3.2 million — many times over his parents' original investment.

But he hasn't forgotten that their sacrifice made it possible.

"My dad raised me tough. So I wasn't scared," Amezaga says as he stands outside a batting cage, wearing a Dodger blue jacket against the early-morning Arizona chill. "I was young. I just said, 'Well, I'm just going to try to be the best that I can be in the States.' I just decided to work on that and try to be the best son they ever could imagine."

He has done well. Once among the most valuable utility players in the game, the switch-hitting Amezaga batted .262 and averaged 130 games a season over a three-year stretch with the Florida Marlins in which he played every position except pitcher and catcher.

Then came a major setback. A month into the 2009 season he fractured his left knee, leading to surgery that kept him out of the majors nearly two years.

"When I was in bed recovering I was watching my friends on TV playing," he remembers. "I said, 'God, if I come back in good health, I'm going to try every minute.'

"Players in the big leagues think 'nothing's going to happen to me.' I was like that. So maybe that's why I'm trying to get another shot. I'm feeling pretty good and I don't want to waste any of my life not being in baseball."

He surely didn't want to return to the life he had before baseball. The house he shared with his parents and twin siblings in Obregon, a commercial and agricultural center in the northern Mexico state of Sonora, was too small for a family that size. But it was spacious compared with the apartment he shared with four friends after his parents sent him to Florida on a tourist visa.

There, Amezaga attended Miami High, played baseball and worked 14-hour weekend shifts at a carwash while eating one meal a day at Taco Bell. His parents encouraged him to endure, believing what he had in the U.S. was better than what waited in Mexico.

He caught a break when a coach recruited him to play at St. Petersburg College, where administrators secured him a student visa. It was there he earned the attention of pro scouts.

When he received his first big paycheck from the Angels, he sent the money back to Mexico.

"The first thing in my mind was to help my parents pay [off] the house, buy a car and pay all the bills my dad owed," says Amezaga, now a father of three. "I put a lot of money in the house. I made it big."

He also installed a second phone line, so when he was promoted from triple A three years later he was able to deliver the news to both parents at the same time.

"I told my dad, 'Put my mom on the other phone. And then I said, 'Dad, your son is a major leaguer,'" Amezaga says, growing emotional at the memory, even 11 years later. "That was one of the proudest moments of my life."

Now, after spending last season with the triple-A Iowa Cubs, he may be on the verge of making it back to the majors. He had a great winter in Mexico, hitting .344 to win the Pacific League batting title before leading Mexico to a Caribbean Series title. And he has hardly missed a beat since arriving in Arizona.

After going two for two with two runs scored, two runs batted in and a stolen base in Thursday's 10-8 win over the Angels, Amezaga is hitting .455 and is tied for the team lead with four RBIs. And he has already played five positions.

"Nice-looking guy," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly says. "This is a guy I've liked for a long time."

With the Dodgers' everyday lineup set, the perpetually upbeat Amezaga is probably battling Juan Uribe, Tony Gwynn Jr., Nick Punto and Alex Castellanos for what could be the last spot on the team.

Amezaga's spunk and determination have made him something of a folk hero at home, where some say his fame rivals that of another Sonoran legend, Fernando Valenzuela. And as his parents will tell you, Amezaga never forgets those who have supported him.

He's already cooking up a shout-out for Southern California's Mexican fans. "I'm trying to think ahead," he says, breaking into a smile. "When you walk to the plate, they always play a song. I'm trying to think of some Mexican songs they could play. I have a few ideas."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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