Baseball Grows in Brazil
Eric Pardinho, a 16-year-old Brazilian, is ready to play professional baseball in the US. It could possibly happen as soon as this year, when he could be offered a record-setting signing bonus for a Brazilian teenager. The international signing period starts July 2, and the best baseball players from around the world receive offers of millions of dollars if they sign a contract to play for a particular team.
Eric, who has just turned 16, is a huge baseball star in Brazil, where the sport is gaining in popularity. He is a pitcher, the most demanding and therefore highest paid position in baseball.
“I feel great because I feel like I’m opening the door for others,” Pardinho said in Spanish during an interview at a Phoenix, Arizona hotel. “Maybe I can open some eyes of organizations to find other talent. There are a lot of players with talent in Brazil. I’m just one.”
If Pardinho is signed to a major league contract, he would be only the second Brazilian pitcher to play in the US major leagues. Pardinho throws a 95-mph fastball, which is good enough to land him a job, and he’s been throwing that fast for a few years already.
He dreams of one day joining Yan Gomes, another Brazilian who came to the US to play baseball. In 2012, Gomes became the first player from Brazil to play in the major leagues, playing the position of catcher for the Cleveland Indians.
Professional baseball in the US has two categories, the major League and the minor League. Every major
league team has its own minor league team and usually more than one. Most players begin in the minor league and only the best players move up to the major league. (The teams shown on TV are all from the major league.) It would be a sign of his extraordinary pitching talent if Pardinho is offered a contract to play in the major league at his young age.
Even the best American players first play for four years in college and then enter the minor league, so they are 23 or 24 before they enter the major league. Eric could receive a big payout in July, a contract-signing bonus, and then start his career for a team in the minor league, so his team could see if he was mature enough to handle the pressure of playing in the major league. When players move up from the minor league to the major league, they receive a large salary increase. For example, Yan Gomes is earning U$2.5 million per year.
Today, there are only two other Brazilians who are playing major league baseball in the US besides Yan Gomes: San Diego pitcher Andre Rienzo, and Kansas City outfielder Paulo Orlando. Rienzo made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2013. Orlando followed with the Kansas City Royals in 2015 and became the first Brazilian-born player to play in the World Series.
“Eric is a special kid,” said Caleb Santos-Silva, coordinator of international game development for Major League Baseball. “His size is not too striking, but the ball just explodes out of his hand. There is a lot of potential. Not just to be a player, but also to be a spokesperson for the game in Brazil.”
Pardinho burst onto the scene last summer when he pitched for Brazil in the under-16 Pan-American Baseball Championship against the Dominican Republic and struck out 12 batters in the victory. He became an international sensation when he pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief for the country’s team in the 10-0 win against Pakistan in the World Baseball Classic qualifier last September in New York.
Pardinho also throws a curveball, slider, and changeup, besides his famous fastball, making him a highly versatile pitcher. He’s impressed baseball scouts with his advanced approach on the pitching mound and experience against top competition.
He pitched in front of baseball scouts from all the teams at the 2017 Perfect Game World Showcase in Florida on Sunday and is showcasing his talents at Spring Training facilities in Arizona this month, accompanied by his father, Evandro.
“My son has always dreamt of being a good major league player,” Evandro said. “I think that if Eric can make it to the major leagues in the United States, baseball in Brazil can keep growing so we can have other good Brazilian players.”
Eric was born and raised in Bastos, a small municipality in São Paulo state settled by the Japanese. His parents are Brazilian and his mother is of Japanese descent. The family spent part of Eric’s childhood in Japan.
It is believed that American companies first brought baseball to Brazil in the late 1800s. The Japanese emigration to Brazil in the early 1900s also played a large role in the growth of the sport.
As a boy, Eric played soccer but his first love was always baseball. He began training with pitching coach Arthur Asanome at age eight until he entered Brazil’s famous CT Yakult Academy for baseball at age 12 and spent three years there using traditional Japanese techniques.
Pardinho credits Thiago Caldeira, a former Brazilian national team pitcher, and Henrique Shiego Tamaki, who pitched in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league for helping him become the pitcher he is today.
“At the Yakult Academy, my son used a rubber ball until he was 12, and he only threw fastballs the first year,” Evandro said. “It was about preparation and mechanics. He started lifting weights the second year and then started learning his secondary pitches. It was very Japanese.”
There have been a number of Brazilian players who have signed contracts to play in the Minor League, which is also considered a professional career, as the players are paid well. Overall, more than 50 players from Brazil have signed contracts with baseball minor league teams.
Seattle’s No. 21 prospect, pitcher Thyago Vieira, who pitched last season in the minor league, and Twins infielder Leo Reginatto are among the country’s most heralded minor leaguers. Left-handed pitcher Luiz Gohara received a U$880,000 signing bonus from the Seattle Mariners, the most ever given to a Brazilian player.
Later this year, major league baseball will launch the year-round MLB Brazil Academy at the CT Yakult Academy, as part of a partnership with the Brazilian Baseball Federation.
[Research for this article comes from the Major League Baseball website.]