06/20/07 8:18 PM ET
Padilla holds head up high in tough '07
Righty gritting through elbow injury with max effort, work ethic
His record is bad, but his life is good, he says. He's fortunate in at least 33 million ways, and he knows it. And the nagging pain in his right elbow that has been bothering him all season is not going to be made into a big deal, because the cowboy from Chinendega, Nicaragua has too much pride to complain about it.
Don't even mention the disabled list.
But the numbers have been saying all along what Padilla is only recently starting to admit: there is a problem.
He is 3-8 with a 6.57 ERA this season, and the "dolorcito" in his elbow, Spanish for "little pain," has already become a big one in more ways than one. When he takes the mound Thursday in the series finale against the Cubs, Padilla is certain to take a few things with him: effort, his mid-90s fastball and the "dolorcito" in his elbow.
"It affects my control sometimes," Padilla said. "It's just a little pain, but it is enough that I notice it. I'm pitching high in the zone, and I am getting hit hard. My control is not where it was last year."
That is obvious. Last season, Padilla had a career year, going 15-10 with a 4.50 ERA in 33 starts. It earned him a three-year, $33 million deal with the Rangers during the offseason. This season, his struggles have been well documented. He missed a start earlier this season with what was called arm irritation in his right triceps, but Padilla says the pain is more elbow-related than muscle-related.
Still, Padilla simply says, "it's been a bad season." And he says he is definitely not as bad as the numbers say he is. The Rangers did not make a mistake signing him to a multi-year deal. He just wants to be healthy enough to prove it.
"Things are not good, and I've had a lot of problems," Padilla said. "Sometimes my strength is not there. Sometimes I pitch good and the run support is not there. I pitch bad and then the support is there. It's been a lot of bad luck."
Padilla's reputation among his teammates is that of a hard-worker and the furthest thing from a whiner. This cowboy simply does not cry, so the fact that he is speaking about the discomfort in his elbow publicly means something is up.
Although he is more open with the media this season than ever in his career, he will never be mistaken for a media darling in English or Spanish. He says his rule with the media is simple: treat me fairly and I'll treat you fairly. Burn me and we are done.
Padilla's attitude could explain why he has not been pressed about the "triceps irritation." He says only enough to keep reporters off his back, and he seems to be in his own world most of the time. He trusts almost no one. His scowl and demeanor can intimidate those who are having second thoughts about approaching him, so he is often left alone.
But Padilla says don't be fooled by what you see on the outside. He considers himself a man of action, and of very few words. Back home in Chinendega, he created the Vicente Padilla Foundation to help children across Nicaragua. He donated $150,000 to the Texas Rangers Foundation when he signed last winter and plans on getting more involved with the community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
At the urging of his mother, he bought a professional soccer team in Chinendega earlier this summer and renamed the club V.D.P, short for his full name: Vicente De la Cruz Padilla. On Thursday, it was announced that he purchased his hometown professional baseball team, Tigres de Chinendega. Padilla describes the level of play for the league in Nicaragua as Double-A but hopes to raise the level to Triple-A this winter.
Jake Blalock, the brother of Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock, played for the Chinendega club last fall. Padilla wants to do more for his region and says that if one day he is admired in Central America for his humanitarian efforts the way Roberto Clemente is revered in Puerto Rico, it would be a great accomplishment.
"I don't feel responsible to help my country, I just love my country," Padilla said. "Nobody has the responsibility to do anything. I bought the teams because of love and I want to help my people. I don't get any money or things like that out of it. I do it because my mother loves sports and we love where we are from."
Not lost on Padilla is the fact that he was discovered by the Diamondbacks after shining for the Nicaraguan National team in the mid-1990s. He wants his countrymen to have the same opportunity -- or more of an opportunity -- than he had and hopes his Chinendega club can provide the vehicle to bring more players from Nicaragua into the Major Leagues. He is already looking for players for his Chinendega team and is confident the league will be able to compete with the Winter Leagues in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela.
"There is talent in my country," Padilla said. "We are always one of the top two or three teams in all the tournaments in Latin America, but nobody knows that. We play baseball. We are good. It is a high level there."
Padilla is savvy. He is wise enough to know the success of his club here and back home in Nicaragua lies squarely on his right arm, so he is going to go out and give everything he has every time -- even if the nightly effort includes a "dolorcito" in his elbow.
That's admirable in some ways, but if cowboys like Padilla don't cry, then maybe they should speak up a little more every now and then. Talk before a serious injury or before the statistics say it all. What the numbers are saying now is not good in any language.
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.