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De Paula awed by Futures Game experience

NEW YORK -- He was wide-eyed at the ball, surrounded by a big league ballpark for the first time. Tens of thousands of seats, all that bunting, all that pomp. And at some point, there would be circumstance, too.

Rafael De Paula never had seen anything like it. Grand and in only its fifth year, Citi Field made quite the impression on the 22-year-old pitcher from the Dominican Republic. The Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game was pending, but De Paula had seen so much already.

His eyes had been so busy. The giant scoreboard, the home run apple -- unique to the home of the Mets -- the distant fences, allies to a pitcher. Imagine what De Paula would have thought had he seen the place before for the dimensions were altered to be more hitter friendly.

And he was excited. Of course he was. Only the select are asked to compete in the Futures Game.

That said, understand, please, that Rafael De Paula would have preferred to be elsewhere Sunday afternoon, somewhere a few miles away in one sense, and significantly farther in another. De Paula is property of the other team in town, the one with a past unlikely to be matched by anything in the immediate future. And given his druthers, he'd rather be across the river and up the Major Deegan to the Bronx. No offense Citi Field, but De Paula would have preferred to spend his July 14, at Yankee Stadium -- pitching.

Indeed, as batting practice for the Futures Game was underway, De Paula expressed thoughts on how he might spend his late afternoon at the Stadium, assuming his assignment -- to pitch the fifth inning for 2013 World Team didn't occur too late and if the Twins-Yankees game reached 15 innings or so.

"I will if I can," he said through an interpreter. "It will feel like home."

De Paula tossed a scoreless fifth for the World Team in a 4-2 loss, allowing one hit and hitting a batter but registering a strikeout.

The Yankees would be delighted if their lone Futures Game participant came that quickly -- all right, pretty quickly. His ascent has been slow because of obstacles unrelated to his performance. De Paula signed with the Yankees in 2010. But visa problems, questions about his date of birth and a protracted process in getting his contract approved forced him to throw only bullpen sessions for all of 2011. He pitched in the Dominican League the following year.

Of course, De Paula never had seen the Big Citi or the House that George underwrote. He had never been to New York City before this All-Star weekend.

"I like it here," he said. "I'm happy to be here. It's like a dream come true. It's like the Major League All-Star [Game]."

Before his recent promotion from the Yankees' Charleston affiliate in the Class A South Atlantic League to their Tampa affiliate in the more competitive Class A Florida State League, his travel in the United States was mostly in the South.

De Paula pitched well enough with Charleston to move North -- not geographically -- in the Yankees' organization. He made his debut in the U.S. at age 22 and impressed, producing a 2.94 ERA and 96 strikeouts in merely 64 1/3 innings . At the same time, he walked only 23 batters. At one point, he was second in strikeouts among all Minor League pitchers. He trailed the leader by two despite facing 66 fewer batters.

De Paula has found the Florida State League far more challenging so far. He is winless with two losses in three starts. His ERA in 14 2/3 innings in 6.75, and opponents are batting .305 against him with five walks and 12 strikeouts.

Marty Noble is a reporter for
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