Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to do an interview with former Devil Ray infielder Aaron Ledesma. Ledesma was an original Devil Ray, having played with the team in 1998, its inaugural season, and in 1999. A second round pick of the New York Mets in the 1990 MLB entry draft, Ledesma ended up spending time in the Baltimore, California (Anaheim/Los Angeles, whatever), Baltimore, and Colorado organizations as well as with the Mets and Rays system. He played 284 games in a five year major league career before spending his last professional season with the Colorado Rockies is 2000. Mr. Ledesma was so nice as to take some of his time to answer a few questions I had for him about his baseball career, the Rays, and life as it is now. The interview is rather lengthy, so I have split it into two parts, and the second edition will be published next Sunday. Once again, thank you to Mr. Ledsema for taking the time to submit to this interview, which appears after the jump.
Chattin With....Aaron Ledesma
DRays Bay-Patrick Kennedy
DRaysBay-You were a second round draft pick of the New York Mets in the 1990 draft, what does it feel like when you first get drafted and you find out the organization with which you will presumably start your career with?
Aaron Ledesma-Do you remember the scene from "Titanic" when DiCaprio screams "I'm King of the world"? That's how it felt to me. I remember driving in my car and screaming something similar. I really didn't care what organization picked me up. I just wanted to play ball. My dad, on the other hand, was pulling for the Giants.
DRB-What experiences, if any, did you have from meeting guys like Bobby Bonilla and Doc Gooden?
AL-Bobby and Doc were both very nice to me. I remember feeling like a little kid the first time I met them. I was pretty intimidated. But all of those guys were great. John Franco and Bret Saberhagen are two others that stick out. It's too bad that I was so self-absorbed at the time. I could've learned a lot more from them than I did. I wish I had another chance to get to know them on a deeper level.
DRB-It took you five years to ascend through the Mets system to the majors. How hard is it to toil in the minors for so long chasing your dreams of playing in the majors?
AL-Playing in the minors was tough physically and mentally. At the time, it seemed like I was in the bushes forever. I never thought I was going to make it. I was fortunate to be a high draft pick so I got some special treatment. Even though I was getting injured, the Mets kept moving me right up the ladder.
DRB-You also spent one year, after being traded from the Mets organization, with the Angels' AAA affiliate in Vancouver. During your time in the California organization, did you ever run across Joe Maddon, and if so, what were your impressions of him?
AL-I remember Joe Maddon well. I remember how nice of a guy he was. He was so nice that it really stood out. I'm happy for him. I think the Rays made the right move.
DRB-Before I move on, I just want to ask. What was it like being traded from the organization who drafted you? Did it feel like you were being given up on and that the Mets had lost faith in you? What were your feelings about being traded?
AL-There are mixed feelings when you're traded. I think Hunsicker was the GM at the time. I remember him being completely honest with me and I always respected him for that. I had Rey Ordonez behind me so I knew my days were numbered.
DRB-After the 1996 season, you were granted free agency, during which time you signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles. What other teams were interested in your services, and what made you sign with the Orioles?
AL-I never really paid much attention to what teams were interested in me. I let my agent handle all that, which was probably good and bad.
DRB-You had a brief up o' coffee with the Mets in 1995, but that was only 33 ABs. When the Orioles called you up from Triple A Rochester, what was it like, and what did it feel like to finally spend a substantial amount of time in the majors, and not just as a September callup, and to be on a team like the Orioles, who had reached the ALCS only the season before and had such star players like Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina, et al, and what were those guys like?
AL-When the Orioles called me up in '97, I was on a mission. I was ready, I was tearing it up in AAA, I was healthy, and most importantly I was focused. I don't think the guys on the team were too thrilled to have me on the team at first. I was replacing Pete Incviglia and everyone loved Inky. But after awhile they started warming up to me. Ripken, Palmeiro, Mussina are all class acts but I think my favorite player on the team was Erik Davis. The clubee put me in the locker next to Randy Myers who proceeded to abuse me for the next three months. All out of fun of course, I think....That was the year I proved to everyone that I could play at that level.
DRB-After the season ended, you had done so well with the Birds, a .937 OPS, that you were taken with the 62nd overall pick in the expansion draft by the Devil Rays. What were your thoughts when you heard that you were going to the Rays. Was it along the lines of 'oh no, I am going to some god-awful expansion team', or 'hey, I'm going to some god awful expansion team, I may get some playing time'?
AL-I just wanted to play so I knew it was going to be best for my career.
DRB-Being with an expansion team in their first season. That is not something that everybody gets to do. Only 25 guys get to go through that for every team. What were the feelings surrounding that 1998 team, what was it like taking the field with a team that had never done so before?
AL-It was exciting at the beginning but then it turned into "every man for himself".
DRB-What was the general mood in that Rays clubhouse? You guys got off to that great 10-6 start, and then the season went right down the tubes after that. How did the attitude and aura of the clubhouse differ from that first game, to the 10-6 start, and as the season progressed and you guys barely avoided a 100 loss season?
AL-It was tough. We had older guys that were at the end of their career and we had younger guys who were just happy to be playing in the Bigs. It's hard to create a winning atmosphere with that combo. Plus it doesn't help that we were in the toughest division in baseball.
DRB-Any one person that sticks out from that 1998 team? And what were some of the players like? Guys like Paul Sorrento, Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Wilson Alvarez, etc...
AL-One of my favorite teammates from that '98 team was Roberto Hernandez. I think he was born with a smile on his face. Another guy that sticks out is Mike Defelice. We were always goofing off.
DRB-What was manager Larry Rothschild like? He always perplexed me in that he seemed so calm, likely sedated, in the dugout a lot of the time, yet he could absolutely erupt like he did in a game against the Royals in 2000, and in the Pedro Martinez brawl. What was your read on him?
AL-I liked Larry a lot. I didn't always agree with his decisions but I thought he was ok. He was a little tough to figure out but aren't we all.
DRB-Finally, here's a question a lot of Devil Ray fans are curious about. What was it like playing for Vince Namoli's team. What did you think of him and GM Chuck LaMar, from a player's point of view?
AL-I never got a chance to get to know Vince and Chuck. I remember Chuck always seemed so serious. I would feel a little uneasy whenever he was in the clubhouse. I always wanted to tell him to breathe and relax. Vince always seemed like a sweet guy, until I saw him blow up in the parking lot. I guess we all have our moments.
DRB-What did it feel like to finally play in your very first full major league season?
AL-I was mentally exhausted after my first full season. I just wanted to fish when it was over.
DRB-The Rays gave you 299 and 294 at bats in your two season with them, totals that you never came even close to anywhere else. What would you prefer, honestly? Being on a good team and never getting to play, or being on......well......the Devil Rays and getting such high at bat totals?
AL-Let me take my hacks.
-And with that, we will conclude this week's portion of my interview with ex-Ray Aaron Ledesma. Here's a reminder that the second and final part of this interview series will be published next Sunday right here at DRays Bay. Until then, here's thanking Mr. Ledesma for his willing participation.