Pepe Cardona getting closer to the bigs

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, May 12th, 2017

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By Ryan Rouillard
rrouillard@ridersbaseball.com

Cardona grew up near Monterrey, Mexico, an area where most kids
grow up with an enthusiasm for soccer. The love for soccer continued
with his mother, with who he’s very close, but Cardona quickly took a
liking to baseball instead.
“That was my thing,” said Cardona. “That was the thing I
always wanted to do. I love it. I don’t know why. It was weird because
everything [around me] was ‘soccer, soccer, soccer’ and I was like
‘baseball, baseball, baseball.’ I didn’t follow baseball games a lot.
It was just because I loved the game…I went to play for the first time
and I loved it.”
A lot of the allure early on though was the feeling of
inclusivity he felt with his team and his coach, Don Cea, whose
nickname added a sense of value for the young outfielder as he was
beginning to learn the game.
“[The nickname] was a big thing for me because I’d never been
part of something like a team,” said Cardona. “That was the first time
somebody called me by a nickname, so it was really nice.”
Though he played with confidence, Cardona struggled in his first
year learning the game but quickly became skilled on the diamond with
help from Don Cea, who mentored him as a ballplayer early on.
“It took me one year to adapt to the game,” said Cardona. “The
second year, I started playing and I saw a lot of difference.
Everything was smooth and relaxed. Then when I was 12, I saw a big,
big difference.”
With that big difference, he began working out with an academy
run by Sultanes de Monterrey, a team in the Mexican League. It was
there that he began to get noticed and heavily scouted, eventually
drawing the attention of the Rangers.
“I was just playing,” said Cardona. “I really didn’t care about
if I got to the big leagues or not. I just wanted to play. Well, the
Texas Rangers came and a lot of scouts came and I was like, ‘oh wow.’”
Cardona signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent on
March 18, 2011, just two days after his 17th birthday. He has
gradually worked his way up the Minor League ladder, including a big
year last season with Advanced-A High Desert. In 101 games with the
Mavericks, he hit .300 and recorded career-highs in hits (81), doubles
(23) and home runs (14).
The strong 2016 campaign earned him a spot on the Opening Day
roster for the RoughRiders. In the season’s first month, Cardona led
the team in average (.308) and had three doubles, a triple and seven
RBIs. Currently ranked the 21st-best prospect in the Rangers
organization by Baseball America, Cardona has gone all the way from a
kid who simply found baseball enjoyable to being a few steps shy of
cracking the Major Leagues.
“Sometimes, I just sit with my mom and talk about how everything
[came together],” he said. “A couple years ago, I was just trying to
play…and now [I’m] just trying to get to the dream [and] that’s the
big leagues.”
Whether he makes it all the way or not still remains to be seen
but if he does, one thing is for sure: the nickname Pepe will follow
him wherever he goes.
“I feel really special about my nickname, so I keep it with a lot
of pride.”
All it took was a nickname to make a young ballplayer feel
included and suddenly, he’s blossomed into something much bigger.
Fourteen years later, the nickname remains and so does the
excitement for Cardona, who finds himself just two levels away from
the big leagues as an everyday member of the RoughRiders outfield.

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