December 30th, 2012

Did you know …


… that Hipolito Pichardo means “Hard-throwing little hippo” in Spanish?

(It doesn’t, but let’s pretend that it does.)

Antonio Balbina, who struggled with childhood obesity in the late 70s, earned the name Hipolito when the neighborhood kids in Esperanza noticed that the 217-pound pre-teen resembled a hippo when he threw a baseball. They also noticed that he looked like a hippo most of the time, but made an agreement to try to keep from pointing that out very often because feelings.

He went as Hipolito Balbina until the late 80s, when he caught the eye of then-Kansas City Royals scout Soupy Plemons. Hipolito was popping the glove with a mid-90s four-seam fastball that prompted the following exchange after a 40-pitch bullpen:

Soupy: Hellola … uh, err … hola.

Hipolito: Hola.

Soupy: You, uh … pitch very … hardo … pitch hardo.

Hipolito: Que?

Later that night, after a case of Presidente and anywhere from five to 25 fingers of well tequila, Soupy decided to fill out his scouting report on the young right-hander. He sat down at the old desk in the hotel room, scribbled down Hipolito in the box marked FIRST NAME, vomit-burped in his mouth and stared at the empty LAST NAME box. Soupy tapped his pen on the desktop. He stared at the ceiling. He cracked his knuckles and rapped his fingers on the armrests of his chair.

Nothing came to mind.

Soupy paced his motel room. He stubbed his toe on the bedside table which caused him to curse repeatedly and consider packing up and leaving the Dominican and quitting scouting altogether. He stared at the empty LAST NAME box again. 

Again, nothing came to mind. Except that fastball. That goddamned fastball.

Soupy wrote down Pichardo in the empty box, filled out his scouting report, and the rest … as they say, is history*.


*50-44, 4.44 ERA, 1.462 WHIP, and an average of 0.5 bWAR per season in 10 MLB seasons with the Royals, Red Sox and Astros.