Figgy's Out There- For the Last Time?

You might well have missed it. It was just a line in small type buried in a box score- one inning, one hit, no runs, no walks one strikeout. But it was the name in front of those statistics that had some significance -Figueroa. For Jonathan Figuroa is back on the field again.

He's up in Michigan now for he's been activated by Great Lakes after his latest misadventure. This would seem to be the last chance for him but he's had so many of those in the past couple of years, that's by no means a certainly.

For the last couple of years Figuroa has become almost as common a sighting at Dodgertown as the palm trees. Sometimes a member of the Vero Beach Dodgers, sometimes a rehab. His last stay there was after his latest in a series of missteps- a 60-day suspension for using a banned substance.

That Figgy would try anything to recapture what was is hardly surprising for there was a time when he was the lefthanded minor league glittering prospect that Clayton Kershaw is now. But that was in- let me see- oh, yeah, 2002. An eternity ago as far as prospects come and go.

He had come over from Venezuela the year before to wow scouts in those Showcases that pop up all over the place. He started in Florida and moved across the country in them, almost as part of a traveling circus. He seemed to get better each time he performed. By the time he reached Los Angeles, the Dodgers peeled out $500,000 for his services.

That next year it seemed a bargain. He started in the Pioneer League and outclassed every batter he faced. They could only manage a .147 mark against him, so after a few weeks of that, he was whisked up to the South Atlantic League. They didn't have any better luck- .148.

And he was spilling over with confidence. "I'll probably start next year in Vero Beach, then move up to Jacksonville about halfway through the season," he said. Who could disagree?

He went back home to Venezuela to pitch some winter ball. He also got married to a woman who was said the be his business manager. She also must have been a great cook for when he reported the next spring he looked like David Wells. Not on the mound. In the mirror.

Awash with extra pounds he toiled to get into shape. In doing so he hurt his arm and when he took the field again it was without his fast ball.

It had disappeared and although he's long since worked his way into excellent shape, it never reappeared. It became painful to watch him as he tried to compensate. Throwing breaking pitches just off the plate, seldom coming close to the zone with anything that would strike fear in the man waiting there.

The opposition knew. They'd stand there patiently figuring they'd either walk or he'd throw that halting pitch that used to be his fast ball and they'd send it in harm's way. His record last year at Vero indicates how bad it got- 1-7, 7.29. 40 walks in 54 innings. The opposition was hitting .302 against him.

They tried every cure- shoulder operations, shoulder scopings, altered deliveries. Nothing seemed to work. And then he foolishly tried to build himself with the banned substance. He'd had a horrible spring. A release seemed inevitable.

But, maybe, someone saw some glimmer of hope in all his tribulations. Lord knows he worked diligently. So hard that he had his curly locks shaved to a buzz cut to stave off the heat as he toiled in the Florida sun.

So, he's up in the Midwest now where they're having a heat wave, too. And, having served his sentence, he's free to pitch again. But in low A, you'll notice. He was in that classification five years ago.

That tunnel has been long and dark for some time now. Any light ahead? Or is he doomed to despair, another of those once bright hopefuls who lost his way.

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