Mr. Triple, Paulo Orlando journeys from Brazil to KC

Royals-Orlando

MAY 2015 – Tom Hanks was wrong. Hanks, who played manager Jimmy Dugan in the movie “A League Of Their Own,” groused “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Paulo Orlando had moist eyes after tripling off Chicago White Sox left-hander John Danks in his first major league at-bat after walking in his first plate-appearance.

“It was just great to see,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “When he hit that triple, you could see everyone in our dugout get excited for him.”

Tears are allowed in baseball after one spends nine years in the minors, playing 1,017 games and 3,726 at-bats and that does not include winter ball for the past four years. Weeping is permissible after spending four years not advancing beyond Class A and then spending most of the next three seasons in the Double-A Texas League.

That was just part of Orlando’s meandering journey to the majors. It began in Brazil, where soccer is king and the superstars are known by one name – Pele, Ronaldo, Zico and Didi. Baseball is seldom an afterthought.

Orlando became just the third player born in Brazil to make it to the majors. The others are catcher Yan Gomes and pitcher Andre Rienzo.

surplusexchange.orgHe was a track star in Brazil, competing in the junior Olympics, while running the 200 and 400. While he played soccer, he was introduced to baseball by some Japanese kids. Baseball diamonds were difficult to find. Games were limited to weekends. The competition was feeble at best.

White Sox scout Orlando Santana, who is from Cuba, was scouring the country for talent when he discovered Orlando, who could run like a cheetah, but was green in baseball skills and knowledge. The White Sox signed Orlando in 2005 and sent him their Dominican Academy, not to play in games, but to learn to play the game – how to swing properly, proper routes to fly balls in the outfield and hitting the cutoff man.

In 2008, the Royals acquired Orlando from the White Sox for veteran left-hander Horacio Ramirez. He was never among the elite prospects in the Royals’ system, but he kept plugging away.

After the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons, Orlando was a minor league free agent, but each year the Royals re-signed him. Last November the Royals at long last put Orlando on the 40-man big league roster.

“Dayton (Moore, general manager) kept telling me last year, ‘Orlando is coming. Orlando is coming,’ ” Yost said.

Orlando hit .301 with 21 doubles, nine triples, six home runs and 34 stolen bases in 136 games with Omaha. He was the starting center fielder for the Pacific Coast League in the Class AAA All-Star game. In 10 postseason Storm Chasers games, hit .381 with three doubles and a home run.

Then he went to the Venezuelan Winter League, hitting .319 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs in 64 games. That brought his game total to 210 games for the year, not counting spring training.

“Last year was my third time to go there, so I feel very comfortable there with Cardenales,” Orlando said. “I hit in the third spot and sometimes in the fourth hole, so I have to swing a little bit harder than I do in Triple-A. Here, I just try to get on base and score runs.”

Orlando was a longshot at best to break camp with the Royals. With left fielder Alex Gordon undergoing wrist surgery in late December and held out of early spring training games that gave Orlando a chance to play more. He hit .319 in 24 games with a home run, triple and three doubles, while driving in nine runs.

“I played more games in spring training and finally I show I can help the team when I get the opportunity,” Orlando said.

The starting outfield, however, was set with Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Rios. Jarrod Dyson was the spare outfielder. There seemed to be no room for Orlando on the 25-man roster.

Yost and his staff, however, opted to go with a seven-man bullpen, instead of eight, and keep a fifth outfielder. Orlando was given the news in Houston, where the Royals played their final two exhibition games.

“It’s been a long haul for me in spring training,” he said. “I know I do well. I feel ready for helping the team at the time. They say they want to keep one more pitcher. On the last day in Houston, they say we keep you. Alex Gordon is not 100 percent. When he gets day off, you’ll probably play left that day.”

Seven games into the season, Rios suffered a broken finger when hit by a pitch in Minnesota. That opened up more playing time for Orlando.

“Finally I’m playing every night and helping the team,” he said.

Orlando’s first four hits in the majors were triples, the first major leaguer in history to do that, dating to 1900. He is the first big leaguer to collect five triples in his first seven games.

“When I first signed, the Cuban guy who signed me, he watched my numbers and he said, ‘You have more triples than home runs. How do you do that?’ ” Orlando said. “When I hit the ball into the gap, I got more of a chance to go to third. So I have a lot of triples in my career.”

He had 64 triples and 64 home runs in the minors. He also stole 221 bases.

On his fifth triple, which was against the Twins, Orlando was not sure he would make it to third. On first base was catcher Salvador Perez, which slowed down Orlando.

“I had just to make sure Salvador was going to score because I know he doesn’t run too much,” Orlando said. “He hustled. So now I have a triple, another one. He said next time I need to see you hustle for an RBI for me.”

Orlando said he “never thought about giving up,” but had conflicting thoughts in 2012 when he was non-roster invitee to spring training. He never got on the field after having sports hernia surgery.

“I just feel think by myself, I hope I make it to big league team one day, but confusion, in my mind, ‘I’m hurt now. I don’t know how I feel when I come back,’ ” Orlando said. “I got the surgery for it and it was not a big thing.”

It was back to the Texas League in 2012, where he said the bus rides can be 14 to 16 hours. In 2015, he is riding charter jets to big league cities.

Orlando met his fiancé, Fabricia, in the Brazilian track program, where she is a triple jumper. They have a five-year-old daughter, Maria. Neither has seen Orlando play in the United States, but Fabricia is planning to come to Kansas City in May.

“It’s hard for her to spend nine months away and then me come back and not make the big leagues,” Orlando said.

She continued to encourage Orlando, telling him to keeping playing and one day “you will make it.”

That day arrived in April when Orlando was 29 years old. He more than paid his minor league dues. He did not zoom through the minors like a Brandon Finnegan, Zack Greinke and Bret Saberhagen.

“I’m not that young, but I feel like I’m 17 years old,” Orlando said. “I’m happy. This the best thank you of my whole life. All the years I play baseball. I come every day for the team. I want to be in the World Series again. Not me. I just watch last year. This year I want to be a member of the team.”

Article by Alan Eskew

2 Responses to Mr. Triple, Paulo Orlando journeys from Brazil to KC

  1. Drew Milner says:

    “Seven games into the season, Rios suffers a broken finger when hit by a pitch in Minnesota. That opens up more playing time for Orlando.”

    Uh, how about past tense??????

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