Bringing along an infallible smile to Modesto, Pablo Lopez has maintained an incredibly up-beat attitude through Tommy John surgery, a dominant 2016 and a roller coaster 2017.
"The biggest thing I learned [from recovering after Tommy John surgery] was how to cherish the game," explained Lopez. "Cherish every game you get to play in."
Despite being born to a pair of doctors in Venezuela, Lopez does not have any childhood memories without baseball as part of his life and relationship with his pops.
"My dad played baseball while he was studying to be a doctor while in college. He used to take me to the ballpark for winter baseball games," Lopez reminisced of his childhood in Venezuela. "So I was always in that environment and I fell in love with the game real quick."
As he watched his father slug home runs as a power-hitting outfielder, Lopez began his baseball journey trying to follow in his father's footsteps when he began little league at the age of six. As Lopez entered his teenage years, he deviated from that path and started to blaze his own trail.
"When I was 14 years old I had been invited to camps as an outfielder because, like my dad, I wanted to be an outfielder. I could hit, but I couldn't run.
I tried out as an outfielder and I was super slow," assessed Lopez. "[Scouts] were like 'you have a good arm, do you want to try throwing off the mound?' When I was 14 I was throwing 80 MPH and they were like 'that's really good. If you get really into it you might have a chance of getting to pro ball as a pitcher.'"
Aspiring big leaguers in Venezuela are considered international free agents and may sign on July 2nd following their 16th birthday. Before that, players like Lopez will train and try to get noticed so that they may sign as soon as they are eligible.
"So I attended all these tryouts and showcases. Then I went to my last tryout with the Seattle Mariners and the international scout, his name is Bob Engel, he called me and said 'we have some interest in signing you to be a part of the Seattle Mariners,'" explained Lopez. "Me and my dad were super excited. My dad would go to every single tryout. He would drive me across Venezuela no matter what. I was with my dad the moment he called."
With that call coming in June, Lopez and his father had to wait a month before he was officially eligible to sign.
"Some scouts went all the way to Maracaibo and they got all the contracts, all the papers and it was really exciting. Just signing my name at the bottom of the paper and shaking their hands, it was super cool," remembered Lopez "[Before that] everything was a just a dream -- something you're trying to achieve. When it finally happens, like whoa! I was just so happy."
In 2013, Lopez made his pro debut in the Venezuelan Summer League before tearing his UCL which required Tommy John surgery that consists of over a year of rehab. At the age of 17, Lopez traveled to America to have surgery and begin the process back to the mound.
"Having the game taken away from you, it's not easy. That's when you miss it the most. Spending that whole year without playing, it wasn't fun," discussed Lopez.
Even in the worst of situations, Lopez found the value to make himself a better pitcher without throwing a single pitch.
"I was like a spectator. I could see the whole [process] from the outside and I could learn ways to improve and ways to not improve," said Lopez. "When I had a chance to come back after my rehab I had an idea of the things I should do and the things I shouldn't do."
Lopez returned to game action in 2015 and threw well in rookie ball. In 2016, Lopez joined Class-A Clinton in late May and took off. The righty allowed more than two runs just once in 17 games while posting a 2.13 ERA. While the results on the mound were obvious, Lopez was equally energetic about his growth beyond the numbers.
"I learned so much. I learned to control my emotions in front of a crowd. I learned so many pitching tips," Lopez divulged. "I learned how to read swings. I learned how to control a running game and how to communicate with people [in a loud environment]. Pitching in big situations, that was a whole different thing compared to pitching in the rookie level."
Although it has been a mixed bag of results in Modesto, Lopez has maintained the same outlook, day in and day out.
"I spent a whole year without playing baseball when I was rehabbing. That's why every day I get to play baseball I'm super happy. I know what it feels like not to play," Lopez said with a smile. "Now that I am able to play again, it's like every day is the best day of my life."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.