Opinion

He’s one step away from being a SF Giant. And ‘he’s gonna be magic’

The San Francisco Giants called up Mauricio Dubón Tuesday, Aug. 27. The following is Marcos Bretón’s Aug. 11 column about the infielder after the team traded for him:

Sacramento has a rich legacy as a baseball town but the latest chapter in that story may be the sweetest one of all.

It starts with two men of faith and baseball – a Sacramento high school baseball coach and his dear friend – who traveled to the Central American nation of Honduras nearly a decade ago to spread the gospel of the game and the lord in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Nelson Randolph, the head baseball coach at Capital Christian School, and Andy Ritchie, a Capital Christian parent, made the journey for spiritual reasons as much as baseball ones. Sure, they passed out baseball gear and conducted baseball clinics to kids who wanted to play ball.

“But we wanted to bring some of those kids to Christ,” Randolph said. “That was the whole idea.”

The enduring legacy of that trip is not what they took to Honduras but what they brought back. His name is Mauricio Dubón and just last week, the now 24-year-old Honduran-born player was traded to the Giants from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Opinion

The Giants hope Dubón could become a long-term answer to the puzzle of finding a second baseman to replace Joe Panik and a shortstop to spell, and maybe even eventually replace, Brandon Crawford.

Dubón is on that path now as a member of the River Cats. He played his first game as a professional at Raley Field on Wednesday. More than 50 local friends poured into the park to celebrate his journey in life from Honduras to the doorstep of the big leagues. On Saturday he hit his first River Cats home run.

It’s a dream that still awaiting a happy ending – a place for Dubón in a big league lineup. But the dream would never happened had not two men from Sacramento said yes to an unbelievable question posed to them by a Honduran woman they had never met:

“It was a rainy day (in 2010) and we were waiting to play ball when this woman (Dubón’s mother) comes up to us in the stands and asked if we could take her son back to the United States with us,” Randolph said.

“I said, ‘Who is your son?’ And she said ‘that skinny kid there.’” She pointed to Dubón, then about 15.

Randolph said to Ritchie: “Do you have a room in your house?”

Ritchie called home to Sacramento and asked his wife Sandy if she “wanted another son.” She did, so long as Dubón and their son Ben got along. Ben was on that fateful Honduran trip and had already clicked with Dubón.

Back home, Ben’s older sisters had already moved out the house.

“It was just the three of us,” Sandy Ritchie said.

So a brother for Ben was viewed as a blessing for a Sacramento family as well. At that point, neither Randolph nor Ritchie had any idea how talented Dubón was. Their motivations were not based on trying to hook up with a kid because he had baseball skills.

“My wife and I live each day trying to be good people doing good things,” Ritchie said. “ We had the means and the room in our house to touch a life, so we did.”

So back Dubón came to Sacramento with a visa arranged by his parents. His mother, Jeannette, had told the men from Sacramento that she had never let her son do so much as a sleepover before because their city, San Pedro Sula in northeast Honduras, was known as the murder capital of the world.

Why would the woman trust these men? “I guess she saw something in us,” Randolph said. She made her request on a Wednesday and that Saturday they were on a plane back to Sacramento.

When they returned to Sacramento, Dubón’s elite baseball talent was not evident or a consideration.

“He played in a summer game for us, hit a triple and got winded,” Randolph said. At the Ritchie’s home, Dubón was sad and lonely.

“That first night was tough,“ Dubón said. “I had never been away from my family before. I was in a random place with people I barely knew. “

He wanted to go home. Dubón did after a short initial visit. He returned to Honduras for a year and his new Sacramento friends went on with their lives, wondering if that was it, if they would never see Dubón again.

They did in the summer of 2011 when he returned to Sacramento – this time for good. He enrolled in Capital Christian School, where he became a sensation in soccer and baseball.

Randolph said he has had good players, but none like Dubón.

“He had speed power and baseball IQ,” he said. “He’s just smart. He fears no one. He knew he was a better player than anyone else on the field. Nothing phased him.”

In his two high school years in Sacramento, there were two Mauricio Dubóns. There was the brash player on the field with the killer instinct.

“We were playing a game against Dixon and we were leading 9-0,” Randolph said. He said they had a 10-run rule, meaning the games end if one team builds up a t10-run lead).

“So Mauricio is on third base and he tells me, ‘I can steal home.”

Knowing the strict unwritten rules of American baseball that punish players who show up other players, Randolph tried to talk Dubón out of it.

“But he took off,” Randolph said. “I kept thinking he would turn back but he didn’t. He stole home.”

The Dixon players and their coach screamed in the direction of Randolph and Dubón. The manager was a little embarrassed. The player was not.

“He’s got some nastiness to him,” Randolph said.

But at his American home, it was a different story.

“He missed his mom. He missed his brother,” Sandy Ritchie said.

But he became a member of their family. So much so that Ritchie’s grandchildren call Dubón “Uncle Riccio,” an abbreviation of his first name.

Eventually, Dubón’s host mother and real mother met when Jeannette flew to Sacramento for his high school graduation in 2013.

“When she came down that escalator and saw each other, we started bawling our eyes out,” Sandy Ritchie said. “We just clung to each other.”

Dubón was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 26th round in 2013. Two families – one in Honduras and one in Sacramento – celebrated. He was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016. Last season, Dubón was killing it in Triple A for the Brewers and appeared poised to become their shortstop – until he tore is ACL and lost most of the season.

Sandy Ritchie helped him through the disappointment.

“She kept telling me god has a plan,” he said.

The Brewers called up Dubón briefly last month. The Ritchies flew from Sacramento to Pittsburgh on a moment’s notice. On July 7, Dubón made his major league debut. He entered as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, battling Pirates closer Felipe Vasquez before grounding out.

“We flew across the country for one at bat,” Sandy Ritchie said. “But it was so exciting.”

Dubón played one game in the big leagues on July 12, in Milwaukee against the Giants. He struck out against Giants rookie Shaun Anderson with Randolph in the stands watching. And that was it. He was sent back to Triple A San Antonio until the Giants acquired him on July 31.

“I was happy when I heard the rumors I might be traded to the Giants,” Dubón said. “The ultimate goal is to get up to the Giants and help them win another championship.”

SAC_PK_DUBON_0733.JPG
River Cats infielder Mauricio Dubon takes batting practice at Raley Field on Wednesday, August 7, 2019 in West Sacramento. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

He went 2-for-4 in his first home game as a River Cat. He’s batting close to .300 overall for the season. Dubón is on the Giants 40-man roster, which means he very likely could be called up to San Francisco before the season ends. He’s only the third native born Honduran to play in the big leagues and he is vying to become the first to be an impact player.

“Nobody from my country has ever done that,” Dubón said. “Hondurans. We’re fighters.”

Regardless of how the season ends, Dubón expects a hero’s welcome when he goes back to Honduras this winter. Regardless of what happens, his ascension up to this point is a miracle of faith and family.

“People tell me it wouldn’t have happened without us but I never think that way,” Randolph said.

And he believes in what is going to happen. “To see where he is right now and where he’s gonna be.” Randolph said. “He’s gonna be magic.”

“I told him every day, ‘You are going to make it big,’” Sandy Ritchie said.

Maybe this was the plan of which Sandy Ritchie spoke? A return to Sacramento before making it in the big leagues with the Giants, the team Dubón followed during his critical years in Sacramento while preparing for his destiny.

“I knew it would all be worth it,” Dubón said.

“We’ll see how it goes. God only knows what he has in store.”

Audio: Marcos Bretón talks with Marty Lurie about Mauricio Dubón.

Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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