Juarez Making His Countrymen Proud

As Dice-K is to Japan, William Juarez is to Nicaragua . They are both cultural icons. But while the Japanese pitcher goes around trailing a media horde that is larger than any that will cover a presidential candidate, Juarez labors in the relative obscurity of the minor leagues, seldom even being asked for an interview.

     Such is the difference in baseball in their respective countries. Japan has its league where the players grow to heroic stature. Nicaragua doesn't even have winter ball. Dennis Martinez is the best player they've produced -ever. So when they put out a national team for something like the World Cup, it's special. And you can count on Juarez being its main man on the mound- even if he is only a minor leaguer.

    This is the eighth season in pro ball for Juarez, a righthander who's about to have his 26th birthday next week. He's had some good moments in the game but most of those came in the lower minors so he's not been one to attract a lot of attention. Not having that big fast ball is part of the reason, of course. Nothing like a load of "K's" to wow the public. Have you ever seen to footage they show of Matsuzaka on Sports Center? Nothing but swings and misses there. Not even a ground ball to dull the impression.

    Jaurez, meanwhile, goes abnout his business in a quiet, efficient maner for this guy as Jacksonville pitching coach Danny Darwin says, "Knows what he's doing out there. He makes the right pitch at the right time."

    Juarez was first signed by the Diamondbacks back in 2000. He came to the Dodgers as a footnote in the trade that sent Shawn Green to Arizona in 2005. That's the deal in which L.A. thought they finally got their man in Dioner Navarro. Oh, the D'backs tossed in Juarez along with a couple of other pitchers, Danny Muegge and Beltran Perez. No one really cared.

    They may start to pay attention now. Juarez has made two starts for Jacksonville and has yet to yield a run in 14 innings. Seven innings of shutout ball in each of those appearances. He may not wow you with the fire eminating from that fast ball but he surely gets outs with it.

   Actually he was starting to attract some notice last year with Las Vegas when he reached midseason. His record wasn't much -- 4-5 -- but his ERA was 4.08, postively microscopic in the those environs. He'd worked his way from the bullpen into the rotation and was seemiongly set to break out.

    Then, there were some family concerns at home which required his presence. He asked for and received permission to go home for what was to be a few weeks absence at the time. Matters didn't clear up, though and he wound up missing the rest of the season. Thus he dropped from view completely.

  He became a minor league free agent over the winter, then re-signed with the Dodgers. That was important only in Nicaragua, of course. Or so it seemed.

  Now, he's pitching his way toward the spotlight- finally. He can't keep up at this rate, of course, but if he's anywhere near as consistent as he's been so far, who knows? Reporters might even start asking him questions.

  In any case, he's delighting Nicaragua. It's a country that's survived a bitter civil war and a wretched economy. They need heroes and here's one that may arrive. Hardly as big as Dice-K, of course. Still, he's making his country proud once more.