08/08/09 8:12 PM ET
Ordonez part of great Venezuelan talent
Slugger rose through ranks alongside impressive names
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
They've never all been on the same Major League team. But when they signed their first pro contracts, they were in the same organization's academy. At one point, a handful of them were living in the same house.
That's how much of an impact one scout, Andres Reiner, had on Venezuelan baseball. That's also the talent level Ordonez had to overcome to make it big on the diamond.
"He signed the best players from Venezuela," Ordonez said. "He started the academy with the Houston Astros, and they got Abreu, Richard Hidalgo, Johan, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora, Raul Chavez. One scout."
Though Ordonez is now regarded as one of the best hitters to come out of his country, he wasn't even regarded as one of the best hitters of his team's crop when he signed. Though Ordonez was known as a great athlete growing up, especially as a standout soccer player, he was a late arrival to baseball. Once he joined the Astros' Venezuelan academy at age 17, he was playing alongside such talents as Abreu, Mora and Hidalgo, but also competing against them for the chance at a pro contract and a trip to the United States for Minor League ball.
Given the competition, Ordonez ended up on the short end. While Mora, Hidalgo and Abreu all ended up in the Astros' system with their Gulf Coast League team, joined later by Garcia, the Astros let Ordonez go in May 1991, though Reiner was in his corner.
Ordonez didn't give up and go home. In fact, a day later, he was back to work. The White Sox tried out Ordonez and signed him almost immediately after the Astros dropped him.
"Once I left, I knew I'd sign somewhere," Ordonez said.
But nobody knew what would come next. It just took a few years for Ordonez to blossom as a baseball player.
"And he made more money than everybody," Guillen joked.
Fittingly, Ordonez's multi-sport history helped him out. By playing soccer so much as a kid, he said, he developed footwork that helped him once he had time to settle into pro ball. Yet in part because Venezuela didn't have the history in soccer that other South American countries had built, such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, he didn't have the professional opportunities on the football pitch.
Venezuela is the rare South American nation in which baseball is the national pastime. And Reiner, more than any other scout, was able to turn that talent base into years of production for Major League players.
"He knew about hitting. He knew about fielding. He knew about running," Guillen said of Reiner, who now scouts for the Tampa Bay Rays. "They called him the bulldog. He told me things when I started playing, to take it step by step. He knew the velocity without a [radar] gun. Unbelievable. He knew the time without a stopwatch.
"To me, he built the preparation for his job, for the things he did, that I haven't seen in other scouts."
More important to Guillen, Reinor brought professional instruction to Venezuela.
"He brought the academy. We got an English teacher, training, medical. We had a house where he lived and stayed in shape. We got into a routine. Now everybody's scouting down there."
Ironically, many of those players from that Astros academy ended up starring on other clubs, not just Ordonez. Guillen and Garcia went to Seattle in the trade that sent Randy Johnson to Houston in 1998. Mora became a free agent twice before starring with the Orioles. Abreu never played a full season in Houston before leaving in the 1997 expansion draft and going to the Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker, who wound up with the Rays as part of a pre-arranged draft deal.
Santana, of course, ended up with the Twins as a Rule 5 Draft pick.
As a group, they've helped give Venezuela an even stronger place on the international baseball map and turn it into a scouting hotbed. Guillen and Ordonez have been teammates in Detroit for the last five years, the past two along with fellow Venezuelan great Miguel Cabrera.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.