The persistence finally paid off for Okotoks Dawgs Head Coach Mitch Schmidtearlier this week when Abdiel Alicea made his Western Major Baseball League debut.
Schmidt would have liked Alicea to play for him the past two years, but he is more than excited to finally write the talented infielder into his game day roster.
“I have been watching his kid play since his freshman year at Cowley (Community College). I tried getting him to play for me at Bellevue (University), but that didn’t happen. After playing against him for two years now, I’m glad we’re finally on the same team,”said Schmidt.
Growing up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with his two older brothers and younger sister, Alicea left for the baseball hotbed of Kansas after graduating high school to attend Cowley Community College to pursue an education and a professional contract.
His brothers also played baseball growing up, but never continued the game past high school. For years, they played together in Puerto Rico. That’s how Alicea turned into the smooth switch-hitting shortstop he is today.
The transition from Puerto Rico to the United States wasn’t a big one for Alicea and it didn’t take long for his skills to pan out in the collegiate level.
In his freshman year with Cowley, he hit .324 with three home runs and drove in 28 RBIs with the Tigers. He also stole eight bases and carried an on-base percentage of .429.
It wasn’t until the following season that Schmidt connected with Alicea, but at that point, Alicea was hitting .321 with 43 RBIs, eight doubles and nine stolen bases. His Tigers were also barreling towards a birth in the 2016 Junior College World Series and had several other programs hot on his tail.
It was after a recruiting showcase that the two finally connected during some one-on-one time.
“I spoke with him and I told him that I really wanted him to come to Bellevue, but only if it worked out for him,” said Schmidt. “The first thing he asked me wasn’t about baseball — it was about what degrees we offered. It was at that point I knew what kind of mature student-athlete this kid was. He knew that baseball was going to end at some point, so he wanted to set himself up best for the future.
“I felt lucky just to get the chance to talk with him after the showcase in the stadium. I know there were a couple other schools that were jealous of that. I also think that’s one of the reasons he’s here today.”
The 5-foot-11 Alicea had many offers on the table from different schools and opted to stay in the state and enrolled at Tabor College, a NAIA program two hours north of Cowley, as opposed to heading another four hours north to Bellevue, which is located in Nebraska.
“Mitch had a good offer at the time, but Tabor was close to where I was and they gave me a pretty good scholarship and a great chance to play baseball,”said Alicea, who is nearing completion of a degree in sports management.
As a Bluejay, Alicea proceeded to tear the cover off the ball and hit .377 with four home runs, 31 RBI and 41 walks during his junior year.
Alicea destroyed those totals this past year as a senior, when he led the Bluejays with 18 home runs, a .393 average, a .718 slugging percentage and scored 70 runs. He was also named an Honourable Mention All-American by the NAIA Baseball Coaches’ Association.
It was during his recent run as a senior that Schmidt reached out and try to land the electric shortstop one more time.
“He was talking to me about coming up here for a couple of months. He kept telling me about the great facilities there, the nice field, the crowd and the community. It sounded like a great place to play,” said Alicea.
Armed with the kind of talent and potential that makes people stop and stare, Alicea was waiting to see if any pro contracts trickled after he played his last game a Bluejay.
“I knew he was talking to a couple teams, but I stayed on him. I kept checking in with him and eventually got him to come up here,” said Schmidt. “The fans are going to love this guy.”
When Alicea arrived in Okotoks earlier this week, marked the furthest north he had ever traveled.
He quickly broke that barrier the following day when the Dawgs were up in Edmonton for his first game with the new team.
It didn’t take long for Alicea to fit into the lineup. Starting at shortstop, hitting second behind Eddie Sanchez, he started his career as a Dawg by drawing a pair of walks. He later smacked a two-run single up the middle in the ninth to provide some breathing room.
“He’s not the biggest kid, but this guy can swing it, goes hard all the time and sells out,”said Schmidt of his 165-pound infielder.
Meshing into a roster nearly halfway through a season can be a tricky one, especially when English isn’t your first language.
Luckily, Sanchez — one of his double play partners — speaks fluent Spanish and has helped him get acquainted to his new surroundings.
“The guys on this team are all very nice. I’ve played against some of them and the others have been very welcoming. It’s been easy trying to fit in,”said Alicea.
Where Alicea plays defensively and where he hits in the lineup will be something Schmidt has to tinker with in the second half of the season. He certainly has the potential to play wherever he wants in the lineup.
And if he handles the adjustment to living in Canada well enough, puts up numbers and helps the Dawgs capture their fifth WMBL championship, he might get one of the things that he has been searching for ever since he left Puerto Rico, a contract to play professional baseball.