You never can tell, according to Pedro Flores, and if anyone would know, it’s him.
The veteran lefty says that sometimes you get on a winning team, sometimes not. Same for each game: a pitcher warms up in the bullpen, and he looks good, he may get killed once the real game starts. Or he may throw a shutout.
Riding through the vicissitudes of professional baseball has been Flores’ pleasure ever since 1996, when he began in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
“I’m like Johnny Cash … I been everywhere, man,” he cracked.
He’s developed a quick wit and sense of humor along a journey that has seen him throw in over 300 career games. And as one of the Roadrunners’ elder statesmen at age 32, Flores can say he’s seen a little of everything at least once.
Sunday night he was scheduled to start a 6 p.m. game and was a little uneasy, noting that his career ERA in day/early night games is “about a million!”
“There’s something about changing the routine that I don’t like, really,” said the affable hurler, who turned in a second strong outing Sunday only to see his teammates fumble one away, 11-7, after allowing nine runs in the final two innings. “It starts a couple of days before, because I have to start getting up early, which I hate.”
But even if the game cranks before the normal 7:05 p.m. mark, count on Flores to be ready. A two-time All-Star with the original Roadrunners, he still loves the game. Born in East LA (“Just like the movie,” he laughs), he signed on the spot when the hometown heroes offered him a minor league contract.
“Just show me where to sign, and you guys can come on over for dinner tonight,” he recalled saying to the scouts.
From there it’s been nothing but good times for the easy-going lefty, whose next win will be his 100th lifetime; he’s been a steadying influence for the younger pitchers. He came back to Edinburg after some productive years with Coastal Bend in the American Association.
“The first time I was here started in 2001, I had been able to pitch well when Chad Tredaway was playing,” Flores said. “So when he got into coaching with the Roadrunners, he remembered that and brought me in.”
He was an integral part of the team’s title-winning seasons in 2001 and 2004, taking 11 wins with a 2.87 ERA in ’01 and going 10-5 with an even better ERA, 2.49, the second time the Runners won it all.
“That 2004 team, I have to say it was the best that’s been in Edinburg,” he insisted. “We had a great defense. Those guys were always turning double plays; we won with pitching and defense, although we could also hit the ball. When we got in here in spring training that year, we just knew, and then we went on to sweep in the finals. It was a great team.”
Now Flores is back in the saddle with the Runners, and his roommate, 30-year-old infielder Bryon Smith, is another coach on the field.
The righty-swinging grad of Texas Tech was a two-time All-Big 12 for the Red Raiders, and has batted .275 in 2009 with a team-high three homers and an impressive 23 walks against just 13 strikeouts.
He says that manager Vince Moore signed him on to hit, but also to help with the younger hitters.
“I think that’s the main reason, or one of them, that I’m here,” said Smith, a natural first baseman who has also played some second this season. “I played with the Fort Worth Cats from 2003 to 2005, and that team along with the Roadrunners, they were the class of the league. So I have some experience in the game.”
He’d been down here on road trips with the ‘Cats, had Smith, and now he’s having a good time as a regular with the Edinburg club.
“I like it, I mean, living right across the street from the stadium is pretty cool…if I have a bad game I can just go home and drink a beer, have my alone time.”
Luckily he hasn’t had to drown his sorrows much this campaign, as he’s hit fairly well save for a recent slow stretch.
“It’s like I am hitting the ball hard but making outs,” he said, before going 0 for 5 Sunday. “And then I’ll hit bloops and make outs, too. But that’s that just part of the game.”
Flores and Smith have played together three different times in their careers, and are roommates with the Roadrunners. The infielder says that although Flores has numerous tattoos and is a pretty imposing physical presence, the looks are deceiving.
“You see all the tats and you think, this is a pretty rough guy from East L.A.,” Smith chuckled. “But he’s a real good guy, great to have in the clubhouse, soft-spoken but he leads by example.”
Being experienced players means the roomies know when moves are afoot, and with the team floating around the .500 mark, the time is now. The Runners released infielder Eunique Johnson last week and brought in Hunter Owen, a Millsaps (Miss.) College grad who paid immediate dividends with four hits in his first two games, including a three-run homer Saturday.
Manager Moore was set to trade infielder Angel Reyes to Rio Grande Valley for shortstop B.J. Wheeler as the weekend closed, and Smith commented that you just have to be ready for the transactions, because they will come.
“It’s hard to get used to the cutthroat nature of the game when you haven’t been around very long,” said the Oklahoma native. “In fact, I guess it isn’t easy to take even if you have been around. It’s just the business end of it, your job is never totally safe…you just have to produce or they’ll move you, bottom line.”
NOTES: The Runners (15-16 after Sunday’s loss) finished their series with Coastal Bend Monday and prepared for a road trip that will take them to Amarillo and Laredo for eight games before they arrive back at the Stadium to face RGV and Coastal Bend July 23-30.