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Feliciano Proves Worth When Given A Chance
by ANDREW LINKER
5 June 2005
The expectation was reasonable. You win a batting title in winter ball and major-league teams should be calling you, not you calling them.
So what did Jesus Feliciano get for his .402 batting average with Santurce last winter in Puerto Rico?
Static. Nothing but static.
For Santurce, the Santurce of Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Frank Robinson and six other Hall of Famers from winters past.
.402 should get you something.
.402 got Feliciano nothing.
Just static, instead of the phone call Feliciano wanted.
But no one was offering Feliciano a starting job in the minors and no one was paying his bills back home in Bayamon, a city of a quarter-million on the northern tier of Puerto Rico.
Instead of going to somebody's spring training, Feliciano went to Oaxaca in the Mexican League.
Owners there will pay decent money for a quality player like Feliciano. Until, of course, an owner's team starts losing. Then, a Puerto Rican batting champion becomes too pricey.
Feliciano was released less than a month into the Mexican League season, taking home to Bayamon his .311 batting average from Oaxaca.
So began his journey to Harrisburg.
A couple of weeks and a couple of well-placed calls later, Feliciano had a job.
With the Class AA Senators, who were about to lose Brandon Watson -- their center fielder and leadoff hitter -- to Class AAA New Orleans.
Feliciano, all 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds of him, would join the Senators May 4.
He would have a starting job by May 15, the day the Washington Nationals moved Watson to New Orleans.
Two days later, Feliciano led off a 6-4 victory over New Britain by lining Justin Olsen's third pitch of the game into center field for a double.
He did not stop until last night, going 0-for-5 in Erie to snap his hitting streak at 17 games.
The streak tied him with Cliff Floyd (1993), Jalal Leach (1996) and Michael Barrett (1998) for the eighth-longest in the Senators' modern era.
Floyd, Leach and Barrett eventually reached the majors. Feliciano simply is glad to have a job in what now is his eighth pro season.
"The last couple of years, I haven't had a chance to play every day in the minors," said Feliciano, who turns 26 tomorrow.
"But I kept working hard. I'm getting a chance to play every day now. I have to keep playing hard and doing the little things."
The best "little thing" Feliciano did since last season was pick the right winter ball team at the right time, signing with a Santurce team that is owned by Carlos Baerga. The same Carlos Baerga who happens to be an infielder with the Washington Nationals.
"He found out I wasn't playing [after being released by Oaxaca]," Feliciano said, "and I think I got this opportunity because of him."
He did. Baerga talked with Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, who then talked to farm director Adam Wogan about Baerga's center fielder from Bayamon.
"As we were looking to get Brandon back up to Triple-A, Jim gave me a call about Feliciano," Wogan said. "It was a great recommendation."
Turns out Feliciano has been far more productive than Watson, both leading off and playing center field.
Feliciano is batting .295 in 21 games as the Senators' leadoff hitter, compared to the .250 average Watson had there in 32 games.
His eight runs batted in from that spot have come in 95 at-bats - - two more RBIs than Watson had there in 144 at-bats.
His instincts and range in center field also have been superior to those of Watson, whose 2.2 catches per game are nearly a full putout less than those of Feliciano.
That one out can make a difference for a team averaging nine flyouts per game.
"We looked at him coming [to Harrisburg] as a fourth outfielder," Wogan said, whose opinion of Feliciano has since changed.
"He's a nice guy to have at the top of the order," Wogan said. "He runs down the ball in center field. He seems like a very good team guy who knows what it takes to win."