Tejada, Miguel: 1976—: Baseball Player
Miguel Tejada: 1976—: Baseball player
Baseball sensation Miguel Tejada, named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2002, traveled an obstacle filled road to athletic stardom. The youngest of eight children, Tejada grew up in the slums of Bani in the Dominican Republic, where opportunities to succeed were few. His prospects became even more bleak when at the age of thirteen his mother died and his father was forced to leave Tejada with an older brother to watch over him during the work day. Tejada, who had left school by the time of his mother's death to work, found refuge in playing baseball, far and away the most popular sport in his country. When he was fourteen Tejada began training with coach Enrique Soto, a former minor-league player who returned to the Dominican Republic as a scout for the Oakland Athletics (A's). Through sheer perseverance and hard work, Tejada earned a contract with the A's in 1993 and began training for a career in the United States. After three seasons in the minors, Tejada made his debut with the A's in August of 1997. Although an injury to his hand took him off the roster, Tejada returned to the lineup and was named the team's starting short stop in May of 1998. His skills as an infielder and batter quickly put him into the front ranks of short stops in major league baseball; indeed, the A's considered him so valuable that the team signed Tejada to a four-year contract worth $11.3 million in April of 2000.
Grew Up in Poverty
Miguel Odalis Tejada Martinez was born on May 25, 1976, in Bani, Dominican Republic, to Daniel and Mora Tejada. He was the youngest of eight children in the family, which included two brothers, one step-brother, and four step-sisters. Tejada spent most of his childhood in the Barran-cones slum neighborhood of Bani, a city of about 100,000 people located on the island's southern coast on the Caribbean. Jobs in Bani often did not pay well and Tejada and his family found they all had to be gainfully employed to make ends meet. Tejada's mother often left the family to work as a cleaning lady and bakery worker in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo. Tejada also helped with the family finances by working as a shoeshine boy when not attending school. At the age of eleven, he dropped out of school to work in a clothing factory. After working all day at the factory, Tejada played baseball with his older brothers and the other young boys of Barrancones, some of whom saw a career in baseball as a way out of the slum.
At a Glance . . .
Born Miguel Odalis Tejada Martinez on May 25, 1976, in Bani, Dominican Republic; son of Daniel and Mora Tejada. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Career: Oakland A's, short stop, 1997–.
Awards: American League Most Valuable Player, 2002.
Addresses: Baseball team— Oakland Athletics, Network Associates Colesium, 7000 Colesium Way, Oakland, CA 94621; (510) 638-4900. Official Website: http://www.oaklandathletics.com.
Tejada's life changed abruptly when his mother died, possibly from pneumonia, in December of 1989. His father left Bani to find work shortly thereafter, leaving Tejada in the care of his then-sixteen-year-old brother, Denio. "My father had to go away to work, because we didn't have any money," Tejada remembered in Away Games, a 1999 book that traced his career, "So I would only see him once a month, sometimes less." With his family in disarray and surrounded by poverty, Tejada found stability in playing baseball. As a fourteen-year-old, Tejada joined the training camp run by Enrique Soto, a man who would put him on his path to the majors.
Soto had played in the minor leagues in the United States as a draftee of the San Francisco Giants, but had been frustrated by the experience. Lacking English-speaking ability, he quickly floundered and returned to the Dominican Republic, where he started to run a small baseball training camp in Bani as a scout for the Oakland Athletics. Soto and Tejada had a rocky relationship at first, as the young player was not used to the discipline that the coach demanded. In terms of his work habits and determination to succeed, however, Tejada was second to none. Although he was one of the smaller players—as an adult, he would reach only five-feet, nine-inches, not large by major-league stan-dards—Tejada was already a powerful hitter and an extremely agile infielder. His first tryout at the A's training camp in Santo Domingo, however, did not impress the team's agents, who at first dismissed Soto's advice to sign the young player. After several more weeks of seeing Tejada in action, Chago Marichal finally signed the athlete to the A's on July 17, 1993, but for a mere $2,000 signing bonus. The bonus did not lift Tejada out of poverty, but it did allow him to buy some clothes and furniture for his family.
Signed to the Oakland A's
Tejada entered the A's' training facility as a seventeen-year-old with obvious athletic talent but few of the other skills that would allow him to play in the major leagues. Although Tejada was a hard worker on the field, he sometimes seemed distracted during his coaches' after-practice discussions. Coming from such a poor background, Tejada also had to learn how to deal with agents, reporters, and fans in a manner that would reflect well on himself and his team. A much bigger challenge was Tejada's inability to speak English; a challenge he was determined to overcome in order to earn the respect of the American players he would soon join.
It was on the field that Tejada dispelled any doubts about his ability as a potential major-leaguer. After playing in a summer league in the Dominican Republic, Tejada was brought by the A's to their Medford, Oregon, minor-league affiliate for the 1995 season. Although some Latin American players were not able to make the adjustment to life in the United States, Tejada was determined to succeed. With an outgoing personality, he often served as a mediator between his fellow Dominican players and the team's management. Tejada also proved popular with his American-born colleagues, who called him "Miggy." Tejada was brought up to the Modesto A's for the 1996 season and started the 1997 season with the Huntsville Stars. Further refining his skills with each new team, Tejada became known as a extremely quick short stop whose size belied his hitting power. On August 27, 1997, at the age of 21, Tejada made his first major-league appearance with the Oakland A's.
Tejada finished the 1997 season in Oakland and compiled a .202 batting average in twenty-six games. In March of 1998, however, an injury to his left hand put his standing on the A's' roster in doubt. Tejada prolonged the injury by returning to practice before he had fully healed, and missed the first part of the next season. Once he had recovered, the A's showed faith in Tejada's future by naming him the starting player as short stop beginning on May 29, 1998. Over the next three seasons Tejada continually improved his performance, with his batting average going from .233 in the 1998 season to .275 in 2000. Eager to rebuild the team around Tejada's talent, the A's signed him to a four-year contract worth $11.3 million in April of 2000. A's manager Art Howe told the Sporting News in September of 2000, "He's one of the main ingredients in our lineup. He's not afraid to be up there with the game on the line and the so-called heat turned on. He likes to be in that situation.… I don't like to call anybody irreplaceable, but he's as close as we come."
Won League's Highest Honor
Although the A's made it to the division playoffs in 2000 and 2001, the team was stopped both times by the New York Yankees. Many observers credited Tejada's work with bringing the team along as far as the playoffs. In recognition to his outstanding play, Tejada was named to the 2002 All-Star game. The athlete immediately put the honor into perspective; as he told USA Today about the experience, "I've been in the majors for a few years now and making [the All-Star team] makes me want to be a better player. But I want to be on the field for the playoffs and World Series. That's what would make me happy." Tejada's wish came partly true at the end of the 2002 season, when the A's again made the playoffs after winning 103 games during the regular season. In its third consecutive trip to the playoffs the team was again defeated, this time by the Minnesota Twins.
At the end of the 2002 season, Tejada received the American League's Most Valuable Player Award. In characteristically modest fashion, the player told USA Today after learning about the award, "I was surprised. I was thinking the whole way that [Texas Rangers short stop Alex Rodriguez] was going to win the MVP." Tejada, who returned to the Dominican Republic in the off-season, was in his hometown of Bani when he heard the news. Summoned to meet with the Dominican president to observe the honor, the occasion turned into a national celebration in the country. A symbol of national pride as well as an example of individual perseverance against the odds, Tejada's triumph showed how far the athlete had come in reaching his goals. As Tejada had previously told the Sporting News, "I've been working all my life for this. I didn't work just to be in the majors. I want to be somebody.
The reason I play hard every day, the reason I work hard every day, is that I don't want to be just one more baseball player in the major leagues. I want to be one more superstar. I want to be somebody who people will remember when I get out of this game."
Bretón, Marcos and José Luis Villegas, Away Games: The Life and Times of a Latin Ball Player, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1999.
Sporting News, September 11, 2000, p. 10; September 23, 2002, p. 64.
USA Today, July 12, 2002; November 13, 2002.
"Miguel Tejada," Baseball Reference, 2002, http://www.baseball-reference.com/t/tegadmi01.shtml (accessed March 31, 2003).
"Miguel Tejada," Oakland Athletics, 2002, http://oakland.athletics.mlb.vom/NASApp/mlb/oak/team/oak_player_bio.jsp?club_context=oak&playerid=123173 (March 31, 2003).
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Tejada, Miguel: 1976—: Baseball Player