Slugger Galarraga reflects on career at Roxivus
Big Cat, who won batting title with Rockies in 1993, retired in 2004
DENVER -- Fifteen years after leaving the Colorado Rockies, and almost a full decade since ending his illustrious Major League career, Andres Galarraga is enjoying the perks of retirement.
But baseball is never off his mind.
"The game is in my blood," the former first baseman said during a question-and-answer session organized by the Rockies as a part of their three-day Roxivus fanfest at Coors Field. Galarraga was one of several players invited to the event, which included Pedro Astacio, Jason Jennings and David Nied, among others.
"Whenever I watch a game [on television], I start to think of coming back at any role," Galarraga said. "I want to keep the doors open. Maybe when Omar Vizquel becomes a manager in Venezuela like he plans to, I can join him at some point as a coach."
Galarraga, 52, is one of the Rockies' most beloved players of all-time. The franchise's first batting champion was invited for a second time this season to take part in the activities celebrating 20 years since Major League Baseball was played in the state of Colorado for the first time.
"I was so lucky to become batting champ with the Rockies," Galarraga said. "My name sounded a lot back then. That feat helped me in being on fans' minds. I surpassed offensive records set by Venezuelan players in the Major Leagues. I was extremely fortunate to become an important representative of all Venezuelans."
Galarraga played 19 seasons in the Majors, spending five of those with the Rockies (1993-97). He started his Rockies stint with a bang, reaching a .370 batting average a season after posting a .243 mark with the Cardinals.
"Don Baylor [who was the first Rockies manager] was my hitting coach with the Cardinals, and we went on to improve my hitting. He developed the batting stance I became known for. No one had such a stance before," Galarraga said. "It helped me in having better vision and bat speed. Before Baylor, I only looked at the ball with my left eye. Afterwards, I had both eyes on the ball, and my swing became more fluid and things just clicked.
"I signed with the Rockies just so I could stay with Baylor and continue the work we started in St. Louis."
When asked for his most memorable at-bat, the Big Cat did not hesitate to mention what happened on May 31, 1997, at Pro Player Stadium in Miami.
"It was such a long blast. It should be among the longest homers in baseball history," Galarraga said. "It was initially measured at 579 feet. Two innings later, they cut it down to 529.
"You know, this so-called Coors Field thing in which people say offense gets inflated at that ballpark annoys me so much, because both pitchers and hitters have to do our biggest effort, regardless of the place we play in. However, it was nice that it happened outside of Denver, in order to prove to people we could hit the ball further no matter where we play."
After Galarraga's batting championship, there was an explosion of Venezuelan talent in the Majors. The native of Caracas is not surprised.
"Venezuelan baseball has grown so much," he said. "We don't even rely on foreign players at winter ball the way we did 30 years ago. There were more than 120 Venezuelan players at Spring Training. There are approximately 80 players from my country in the regular season. And this will only grow even more."
There is one fellow Venezuelan who inevitably gets compared to Galarraga as time has gone by.
"Miguel Cabrera will break all of my records. He will even break records set by American players. He is the one I mention, since he gets compared to me so much. He is a great listener," Galarraga said. "I wish many kids, who haven't reached the level he has, would listen to coaching advice the same way he does. I keep on telling him he has to work hard and do his best both on and off the field, as a positive role model."
Looking back at his illustrious career, Galarraga thanks fans for their support as a player and as a cancer survivor.
"I am patient when it comes to meeting fans," he said. "They paid my salary. Sometimes it's so hard to say that I get so much love and support. My dealing with cancer made me get letters from all over the world, from people who weren't even baseball fans. That helped me a lot in overcoming the disease. I am very blessed, because I can serve as a positive example for kids."