15 years after Draft, Cruz K's 2 in MLB debut

September 3rd, 2022

CINCINNATI -- A rookie at 32 years old, new Reds reliever Fernando Cruz certainly had to be more patient than most ballplayers before he finally made it to the Major Leagues. Walking into Great American Ball Park for the first time on Friday, Cruz quickly realized the wait was worth it.

"It's a really good journey," Cruz said. "It means everything to me. When you're a high-performance athlete, you want to be here, obviously. You want to get to this point in your career. Me doing it at 32 is really interesting, it's a really good story for the world to share. I'm really excited for it to happen. I think I'm giving hope to a lot of young people and people overall. I'm really happy. I'm really honored to be here."

Cruz, who was called up from Triple-A Louisville on Thursday when rosters were expanded to 28 players, entered Friday's 3-2 Reds win in the top of the sixth inning. He worked a perfect frame with two strikeouts, with both K's coming on sliders at the bottom of the zone where the hitters whiffed.

"It was amazing. It was crazy," Cruz said after the game. "The word is 'unexplainable.' Really honored and blessed to be able to share that here in Cincinnati with all the fans and with my family in the stands."

According to Elias Sports, Cruz was the oldest Reds player to make his big league debut since 38-year-old lefty pitcher/outfielder Pat Scantlebury pitched vs. the Cardinals on April 19, 1956.

Cruz was a sixth-round pick of the Royals -- as an infielder -- out of Puerto Rico all the way back in 2007, when he was 17. By 2011, he was converted to pitching and began to bounce around in and out of Minor League baseball.

"I played everywhere: independent ball, Mexican League, local league in Puerto Rico, winter ball, all the winter balls you can imagine," Cruz said before the game. "I went through everything an athlete, a player can go through and here I am. It's been a blessing, it's been a long road for me, but it happened."

A Reds scout, Juan Silva, watched Cruz pitch last winter in Puerto Rico and sent in some video of his pitching. The club, which liked his cutter, slider and fastball, signed him to a Minor League contract on Jan. 27. 

Cruz earned a promotion by delivering a strong season at Louisville. In 51 appearances, the right-hander posted a 2.89 ERA with 23 saves, 19 walks and 66 strikeouts over 56 innings. 

"An incredible story of perseverance," Reds manager David Bell said. "So many times, I’m sure he could’ve given up or tried something different. The game will test you. But I don’t think it’s tested many people quite like this story."

After Louisville's game on Wednesday, manager Pat Kelly called a team meeting, which felt odd to Cruz in the moment.

"PK never calls too many meetings. We were like, something's going on," Cruz said. "He went and told everyone, 'I don't want no more scooters here. I got a complaint last night because someone was going to run over an old lady out there. I don't want to hear about any scooters here. The ice cream bells are done and I don't want to hear them anymore.'"

Then, Kelly pointed to Cruz.

"'You, you're going to have to take your scooter to Cincinnati,'" Kelly told him.

Infielder Spencer Steer was also told he was going to the big leagues in the same meeting. Steer is a top prospect but didn't mind sharing his moment with the journeyman Cruz.

"His story and everything he’s been through, it was a really cool moment," Steer said. "The team mobbed him and he got to say some words and it was emotional. That guy deserved that moment. [Kelly] caught me off guard letting me know at the end of that. It was a pretty special moment. I got chills right now just reliving that. It was awesome."

For Cruz's wife, Omaley, it must feel like a full circle moment. Her father is former Reds infielder Luis Quinones, who was with the club from 1988-91. 

"She was born in 1988. She was hanging around here in 1990, the year I was born," Cruz explained. "Now she's hanging around here again, married with me. And the kids are going to hang out here.

"It's amazing because [Quinones] has been telling me about the Reds since we met. Now I'm with the Reds."