Ava Seccuro staff writer
Whether it’s a casual game of catch, or an intense pep talk, since the two were toddlers, baseball has helped strengthen the bond between junior Ryan Fernandez and his older brother Rigo Fernandez. Throughout the Fernandez’s personal journey as a baseball player over the years, Rigo has been serving as a mentor for Ryan prior to his newfound success as a professional baseball player. Rigo has not only used his expertise to advise his younger brother, but also advised Ryan’s teammates.
In last year’s MLB draft, Rigo was selected as a pitcher and was assigned to play for the Chicago White Sox. He reported to Arizona for spring training on March 3, and is now practicing for the official season. As spring training is in full swing for Rigo, so is high school baseball season for Ryan. The brothers have been playing baseball together for nearly 13 years, and regularly practice with each other Now, Rigo is helping out the varsity baseball team to help hone his own skills before his first season with the White Sox, and to share his passion and talents with the rest of the program.
How it began
“Baseball is the thing that my family’s grown up on. It’s a part of the Cuban culture, so we both have been playing since we were 2 or-3-years-old. It’s just a way to get out of the world,” Rigo said. “It’s something we’re always watching and we’ll analyze it. We’ll obviously go practice all the time.”
When Rigo and Ryan’s father, Rigoberto Fernandez, reflected on the moment that Rigo got drafted, he mentioned tentatively looking at the computer to catch Rigo’s name on the draft. When he finally saw it, the family’s suspense that day dissipated.
“It was a tense morning. I told everyone in the family to get ready for it not to happen. The funny thing is that I was looking to the computer exactly when his name came up on the board and I calmly told him, ‘Hey sucker, you are about to get a phone call. You have just been drafted,’” Rigoberto said. “At that moment tension became excitement and happiness, and it all turned into tears.”
Rigo describes the special moment as the best day of his life to date.
“It was finally like all the hard work paid off. That was a dream ever since I was a kid, to be able to play pro baseball and say I played for somebody. If this is meaningful baseball, I’m getting paid to do what I love,” Rigo said. “When I got drafted, it was just like tears, almost like pure joy. I literally couldn’t hold it in all day almost. It was just the most unreal feeling. It was the best day of my life to this day.”
While Ryan wants to follow Rigo’s footsteps in going pro, he’s also following mirroring his brother’s high school baseball career. Ryan’s head coach, Gregg Riesenberg, also coached Rigo and notes that Rigo’s dream of playing in the MLB has been on his conscience since he was a high school player.
“I coached Rigo for four years in high school. He has grown as a baseball player and he has matured into a fine young man. He is always respectful and polite to his coaches,” Riesenberg said. “Rigo has grown into his body and has a deep respect for the game of baseball. He is trying his best to make it to the big leagues someday. This has been a dream of his since I met him his freshman year of high school.”
Aid to the baseball program
After his graduation from CSU Dominguez Hills and his draft to the White Sox, Rigo has collaborated with Riesenberg not only to assist the baseball program while he can, but also to prepare himself and get into shape for spring training.
“Some almost consider me as a volunteer coach, but also while I’m getting my own work in. I have to report [to spring training] in a couple of weeks, but I’ll help them with their fielding practice or if I see something. I’ll talk to Riesenberg about it and I’ll talk to the kids about running angles to first base just fielding practice,” Rigo said. “When they throw their bullpens, I’ll try and help them out and see what they’re doing to help them throw more strikes.”
Riesenberg has witnessed firsthand the advantageous impact Rigo has had on Ryan and the baseball program. Most importantly, Rigo’s success in the draft inspires players in the program who have the same big-time aspirations that Rigo had as a teenager.
“Rigo is not officially helping out the baseball program, he is there to get his work in to be ready for spring training. He does have an impact on the current players because there are a few current players who would like to get drafted and have a chance to try and make it to the big leagues,” Riesenberg said. “Rigo has influenced Ryan in a positive way. [He] is showing Ryan how to be productive in his workouts and his bullpen sessions. Overall, [he] has been a very positive influence on this year’s Normans baseball team.”
For Ryan, before high school there was a period in time where baseball “wasn’t fun” to him anymore; however, Rigo kindled and strengthened the fire and passion that Ryan once had for baseball, and by the time he got to high school, he was just as ambitious as his brother.
“He’s brought out the better side of baseball to me. There was a time where baseball wasn’t fun at one point, but he brought that fun back in and showed me how fun baseball really can be,” Ryan said. “Of course there’s always the day he made it and, [I thought], ‘I want to make it too,’ but I don’t really feel any pressure, and my parents and the rest of my family makes sure I know that.’”
Rigo’s guidance goes past practice and batting cages. His generosity extended to shortstop junior Quincy Smith and other middle infielders.
“It really does help everyone because he doesn’t just only focus on me. He goes around and watches people,” Ryan said. “An example would be with Quincy Smith, he was out there at shortstop. My brother was like, ‘I gotta go, I gotta go show him something.’ So, he went out there, he started talking to him and he worked with not even just him, but the whole middle infield and third base, too. He helps everyone in the program he even can help outfielders.”
As Ryan and Rigo have spent more time together before Rigo leaves for spring training, their bond, which has always been tight, has become more of a bond between men rather than that of boys.
“I feel like there’s more of a bigger mutual respect now ‘cause we both see that we both work and he sees that I’m working to try and get up there,” Ryan said. “It’s more of a respect. We work out a lot together and it’s not more like we’re talking as kids anymore, it’s like we’re talking like grown men and athletes. If I’m slacking off at one point, he’ll get on me and say, ‘You can’t do this s*** at the next level.’”
Plans for the future
Rigo has fulfilled his goal of being drafting in the MLB, but for Ryan, it has not yet been fulfilled. Therefore, as Ryan makes his way up to that level, Rigo wants him to reach even greater milestones of success.
“I want to push him to be better than me, to get more. I laid the foundation, I laid the tracks. I want him to take advantage and do more because now there’s more connection, more people know. Especially since I was the first big [one] I want to help him come better than me, be a bigger baseball player than me, go to a better school than me, get drafted higher than I did,” Rigo said. “I’m just here to set the foundations, this is the goal, we need to do this and get him to be better.”
Although Rigo is volunteering to sharpen his skills before spring training, he also wants to give players a special insight about the mentality of the game and let them know that the reputation regarding sports at this school should not box them out of opportunities that Rigo has received.
“It shows guys that it doesn’t really matter where you start playing baseball. Beverly hasn’t been looked at as a great sports school in general. We had an old athletic director when I was there and he thought that no one would go pro out of the school,” Rigo said. “When you have that from the head guys back in the day, it doesn’t help. But then when you have somebody that comes back and talks to you, explains to you what to do and like gives you tips anything with the mental part of the game.”
Rigoberto has immensely enjoyed watching his sons mature both on and off the field. He truly believes that baseball has been the glue that has and will continue to keep their family as strong as it is now.
“At one point or another in their young career, my two sons have taken over the role of adviser and trainer to each other. It has been a pleasure to see the love and amazing relationship that they both have developed, learning that nothing is impossible and that the sky’s the limit. They support each other and they are always there when it is most needed,” Rigoberto said. “They are best friends and they always show it. Ours is the happiest and strongest family you can imagine and we owe a big part of it to baseball and the lessons we have learned from it.”