In Episode 9 of “talking with the stars” brought to you by Sportswinmore’s Journalist Mike Rodriguez. @mikerodriguez talk to Dominican Closer @neftali_feliz_jr about his life growing up in Azua, Dominican Republic. Neftali talks about his 2010 campaign were Frank Francisco gave up two blown saves and the Rangers replaced him as the closer. Feliz was named to his first MLB-All-star game in 2010 with teammates, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus. Currently, he holds the 3rd fastest recorded pitch that has ever been thrown in a game103.4 behind Aroldis Chapman. During Game 6 in the American League championship in 2010, Feliz got the final three out in the 9th inning and sent the Rangers to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. The Rangers lost the World Series to the San Francisco Giants.
Where are you from?
"I am from Azua in the Dominican Republic “ the rock” I grew up there my whole life, they call it “throwing rocks” because of the war from back in the day when they used to throw rocks at the opposing army."
When did you start playing baseball?
"I started playing at 8 years old, I started in a league until I was 14 years old and then I started in a program called “Guerrero” where they taught me how to play. Baseball was something we played young, it had my attention early on and with the local kids in the neighborhood, it is all we ever did."
How was your economic background in your house gold?
"My dad worked. Until the day I signed. My dad was a truck driver and my mom was a teacher. Thanks to god I did not have to work when I was younger. My grandfather did construction, and he would take me and my brother to learn how to be a man an learn to work with houses."
When did you finally realize that you can play the ball professionally?
"When I was 16, and I was with the “Guerreros” I knew I could play baseball. I knew I had to take it seriously and I focused on my pitching and in 6 months is when I first got signed. I signed with the Atlanta braves."
How was your experience getting signed for the first time?
"I had the chance to go to different teams, but a scout saw me and said to wait for Atlanta to come in and watch me pitch. I was throwing 91-92 when he first saw me and then the second time they saw me I was throwing 94-95 mph, and they signed me on the spot. It was a coincidence, that it was my dad's birthday, the first day I signed everyone was excited this was the first step in becoming a professional baseball player."
How much did they give you when you first signed?
"I got signed for 100K and it was a lot during the time. I ended up finishing the house that my dad was making for my mom and our financial state was a lot better. I went straight to the United States in the summertime as soon as I got signed. "
Was it difficult to learn the language?
"Yes, of course, it was very hard for me to leave my family, leave behind the culture that you are so used to that It made me more mature, and I was lucky enough to fly out with teammates who were in the same position as me, and we were taking it as a learning experience, and we were excited.
Talk about your process in the minors league?
"It was a very beautiful experience. Thanks to God I was around Hispanic people from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama so it was an easy transition it was not hard. The first year I was in Orlando, and the second year I went to Virginia, and they were a lot of Dominicans. The second year, I played classic A in Texas out of 25 players, they were 16 Spanish players, so it was not hard, and then when I went up to AA there were only 9 so it got tougher to learn the language. 2006, I played in A, 2007-2008, A-AA, and 2009 I was triple AAA and played in the majors."
What did you do when you got your first call up to the majors?
"We were getting ready to play, and we were in a training camp in July. Then we received a little break and I got the call that I will get called up in August. I had a good outing, and we had a four-day break and my manager asked me that he needed to talk to me. Before we spoke, I asked him to get me ready that I wanted to Pitch that it has been four games since I have played. My manager said the reason why he hasn’t been playing me is that the Big leagues wanted to call me up, and he asked if I was ready. At that moment, I wanted to call my family to give them the big news and it was very exciting."
When you saw your name on the back of the jersey how did you feel?
"When I first landed I went straight to the hotel and the team was yet to arrive yet. The team asked me to bring a jersey and be ready. I did not think at all I was going to throw, the secretary called my room and asked me where I was and to get downstairs that there was a taxi waiting for me and get your bag and go to the stadium. I was very happy, I noticed players because I played with them in Arizona in spring training but I didn’t get a chance to pitch until we went to Oakland to pitch for the first time. I had a lot of veterans helping me out in the first game and then everything came into fruition. The first batter was Ian Kennedy and that was the first strikeout I had. "
Feliz Talk about 2010, When you went to the World Series what was going on in your head fill us in on that experience?
"It was a very beautiful year for the organization, the ballplayers there built a bond that was that no one will ever forget and the blessing that was brought to each player. I spent my time preparing my first season, Francisco was the closer, and he had two blown saves. Managers called me up and said can you close and I responded where ever you put me I will go. If you tell me to do something, I will do it. They made me closer, and when Francisco got back I was second in saves in the Majors, with 23 Saves, made my first all-star appearance. We won the division that year against the Yankees to move past the world series."
Neftali did you feel pressure in the world series?
"No, in the World Series, I did not feel pressured at all just in the beginning in the playoffs where we were playing against Tampa, and we were winning by four runs and I came in. I gave up a hit after a passed ball and Benji Molina came up to me and said “horse" (friendly term), all of this is the same baseball, cancel out the noise and bring your stuff, whatever you do this year you do the same way no one will be able to stop it. He said you are moving too fast. After that big talk, I struck out the first three and then the rest of the playoffs I was hot."
The blown save you had in the world series in 2011 how did you feel?
"No, I did not feel any pressure I lived what anyone else would want to do and that's play in the world series. We were up by two and then I came in to pitch the first batter I faced was Ryan Theriot and I struck him (out) then I gave a double to Albert Pujols and I walked Lance Berkman. I then struck out Allen Craig with an impressive slider that he didn’t even get a chance to swing on. The last batter was David Freese, he stood at home plate with two on and two outs and quickly fell behind 1-2. Feliz fired a 98-mph fastball and the freeze pounded it to right field to tie it up and then the Cardinals won the game off a walk-off home run straight away center."