When Leonardo Reginatto tells people where he is from, he often gets the same response.
"Why didn't you play soccer?"
Reginatto, an infielder for the Hudson Valley Renegades, hails from Curitiba, Panara in Brazil.
Although his home country is famous for its many stars in the "beautiful game," Reginatto found beauty in America's national pastime at a young age and never looked back.
"One time my neighbor told me to go to the field and practice a little bit of baseball, and I never stopped playing," said Reginatto, who has played third base and shortstop for the Renegades this season. "That's what I want in my life now. I don't know how I came here, but I'm here now."
Reginatto, at 22, is one of the veterans on this year's Hudson Valley squad, as he is the only returner from the 2011 edition. His professional career started as an undrafted free agent in 2009 where he hit for a .328 average in the Venezuelan Summer League as an 18-year-old. He spent all of 2010 with the Princeton Rays and all of 2011 with Hudson Valley.
Life as a Renegade was not initially easy for the Brazilian, though. Reginatto, who hits from the right side, struggled at the plate, hitting just .198/.254/.251 with five doubles and two homers in 63 games. He struck out 47 times while only walking on 12 occasions.
Reginatto did not let this get him down, however. He spent the offseason working on his hitting, trying to improve many aspects of his offensive game. Reginatto said he has tried to focus more on not pulling fastballs on the outside part of the plate and hitting to the opposite field.
"I'm feeling much better than last year," the 6'2" 180-pound infielder said. "It started at home, then into spring training and extended spring training, trying to understand what went bad last year. I worked hard every day and also changed some mechanics in my hitting. It's helped me a lot this year."
The first sign that something was different this year came on opening day, when Reginatto hit safely in all four of his at-bats. Manager Jared Sandberg has noticed a definite change.
"He's finding the barrel," Sandberg said, "he's attacking the fastball, which is what hitting is all about."
The changes have had a positive impact on Reginatto's production, as despite two straight hitless games the last two nights his average still stands at .308. He has drawn three walks, struck out three times and his sole extra-base hit is a double, earning him an on-base percentage of .379 and a slugging percentage of .346. In the friendly confines of Dutchess Stadium, he has an average of .417 and an on- base percentage of .462. He has decent speed, and has stolen a base this season.
The only glaring negative associated with Reginatto's game so far this season is his five errors in the field, splitting time between shortstop and third base. He has seemed to improve in recent days, however, and he has not made a habit of bad defense, only committing 11 errors in all of last season.
Despite the good start, Reginatto is just focused on the present and doing whatever it takes to get better and help the team win.
"The way I worked this year, I just want to do my best every day and help the team," he says, "Hopefully we'll get to the playoffs and maybe the championship."
Eric Vander Voort is the Hudson Valley beat writer for Rays Digest You can follow him on Twitter at @ecvandervoort.
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