Figueroa denied chance to pitch in Caribbean Series
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Nelson Figueroa is a man with little to do these days.
The 38-year-old right-hander, signed to a Minor League deal by the D-backs this offseason, helped pitch the Dominican Republic's Leones del Escogido to the Caribbean Series. But Figueroa, a Brooklyn native of Puerto Rican descent, has been blocked by the Puerto Rico Baseball League from playing in the Caribbean Series, which pits the winter league champions from the Dominican, Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in a seven-day tournament.
So here, at Estadio Sonora, Figueroa is more a fan than an active pitcher trying to help Escogido win its third Caribbean Series title in four years.
And he isn't happy about it.
"That hurts," Figueroa said in Spanish. "It hurts a lot for everyone who's here, playing the whole regular season, playoffs and championship series just to get to this moment, to play or pitch in the Caribbean Series. For us even more, because we have a championship to defend from last year, and for this team that has supported me so much the last four years."
Figueroa has played in the winter leagues of all four nations, representing Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican in past Caribbean Series. Last year, he pitched for the Leones in winter ball, then for Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez in the Series. And next month, he plans on suiting up for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
Figueroa was on loan by the Puerto Rican League to pitch for the Dominican winter ball squad, but apparently that did not extend to the Caribbean Series. The veteran pitcher, who has compiled a 4.55 ERA in nine Major League seasons, didn't find out about it until the start of the tournament. And everybody -- his teammates, coaches and general manager Moises Alou -- was taken by surprise.
Figueroa maintains that he never signed anything that would disallow him from playing in the prestigious Series, and he's threatening to take legal action.
"We have a crown to defend here," Figueroa said.
His anger, at least, is somewhat tempered by the prospect of being in D-backs camp this spring, one year after going 12-5 with a 3.89 ERA in 25 games (15 starts) for the Yankees' and Red Sox's Triple-A affiliates.
"I have a chance to return with my first Major League team," Figueroa said. "I still live there, in Arizona."