LIMA – University of Northwestern Ohio’s Ruben Medina was consumed with baseball as a youngster.
He played it.
He watched it on television. And he got to as many games as he could in person.
Medina has brought his passion for baseball to Lima, as he pitches for UNOH.
The 6-foot-1 junior right-hander grew up playing and watching baseball in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
“In Venezuela, baseball is the biggest sport,” Medina said. “It’s the biggest hobby. Almost every kid plays baseball when they’re young. Little Leagues are everywhere.”
This season with UNOH he stands 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA. In 45 innings, he has 29 strikeouts and nine walks. In 10 starts, Medina has had two complete games. He’s helped the Racers to a 26-14 record, 14-6 in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference.
The Racers stand second in the WHAC, 3.5 games behind first-place Davenport. The the top six teams make the WHAC tourney.
Last season with the Racers he went 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA. He had one shutout.
He pitched for the Lima Locos last summer and was 2-0 with a 4.37 ERA. He started Game 1 of the championship series against Licking County and tossed five innings, giving up one unearned run on six hits, in a 1-0 loss.
Down the stretch for the Locos, he did a good job of throwing his fastball, breaking ball and change-up for strikes. His fastball was usually timed in the 88 to 90 mph area.
“One thing about me is I can keep the ball down,” Medina said. “And when I have my three pitches I can spot them and I usually have a pretty successful game. … The key to success is keep the ball down and mix your pitches. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Medina’s baseball development dates back to his early years in Venezuela. His mom and aunt enrolled him in baseball when he was six “just to give him an activity.”
“I played Little Leagues and played everything (in baseball),” he said.
Medina was also able to watch plenty of major league baseball in his hometown of Maracaibo.
Medina’s television had ESPN, ESPN 2, FOX Sports and Venezuelan TV, which carried Major League Baseball games and Venezuelan Winter League games.
“You could always watch a game, five times a week,” Medina said.
Then, after the games, Medina would check the Internet for major league boxscores, statistics and stories.
“Venezuela is huge in baseball, huge, huge,” he said. “The not only play it and follow it, but you have a lot academies and people working on players and talent to get them to play college baseball.”
With television, he was easily able to follow all his favorite MLB players.
“One of my favorite players of all-time is Greg Maddux,” Medina said. “He was one of the best. And right now, I’d say Felix Hernandez. He’s one of the best when it comes to pitching.”
Over the years, he’s had plenty of baseball role models from Venezuela, including Omar Vizquel, Andres (The Big Cat) Galarraga, Luis Aparicio, Bobby Abreu, Tony Armas, Magglio Ordonez, Johan Santana, David Concepcion and Ozzie Guillen.
“We’ve had a lot of good players. I was a huge fan of Vizquel and Andres Galarraga,” Medina said. “I remember when I was 8 to 10 years old, he (Galarraga) played with the Braves and that was my favorite team. I was playing first base then and he was my favorite player. I admire him a lot, especially after he got cancer.”
Current Venezuelean-born players include Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Gonzalez, Freddy Garcia, Anibal Sanchez, Francisco Rodriguez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Victor Martinez.
According to baseball-reference.com, a total of 302 players from Venezuela have reached the majors.
“Luis (Aparicio) is really big back home,” Medina said. “David (Concepcion) is pretty big back there, too. They are heroes back home.”
Another reason for the high popularity in baseball in Venezuela is the Venezuelan Winter League, in which many U.S. and Venezuelan-born players play during the winter.
“We’ve had players like Greg Maddux, Jimmy Rollins and Barry Bonds play in the Winter League,” Medina said.
The Venezuelan Winter League has eight teams, including Medina’s hometown of Maracaibo.
“I always watched them,” he said. “I remember Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino played for my hometown team. And they had games on TV here every night.”
When Medina graduated from high school at 17, he went to a Venezuelan all-sports academy, where he was heavily scouted for baseball.
“They have talent recruiters, who recruit players for the universities (in the U.S.),” Medina said. “I was signed to go to a JUCO in up state New York, Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. … I had the opportunity to come here (to the U.S.) and study and play baseball, too, so I really started working on my game. I also prepared myself when it came to learning English.”
After one year at Genesee C.C., he was recruited to play at UNOH.
At this point, Medina isn’t sure if he’ll return to the Locos this summer.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do this summer, whether I’m with the Locos or another team,’’ he said. “I’m staying here in the states, I know that.”
Medina, a Marketing major, is hoping to get drafted or to sign as a free agent. That would continue the baseball tradition from Venezuela.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “That’s what we’re working toward.”