- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The South American nation of Colombia has sent 10 players to the major leagues. The first six were shortstops. The last three have been pitchers.
"Those shortstops had great hands, because our fields had so many rocks in them," said Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri, the ninth Colombian to reach the majors. "They fixed the fields. Now, no shortstops."
Frieri admits his favorite sport to watch is still soccer, which helps explain why Colombia has been less of a pipeline to the majors than neighboring Venezuela or other Caribbean lands such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba or Puerto Rico, where baseball is the No. 1 sport.
Colombia -- specifically, a small town called Sincerin near the colonial city of Cartagena -- is Frieri's home. But for the past 10 seasons, his home away from home had been the San Diego Padres organization. He was the longest-tenured player in the organization before the Padres traded him to the Angels for infielder Alexi Amarista and pitcher Donn Roach early this month.
The Angels play the Padres in San Diego this weekend and Amarista figures to be on the field quite a bit. He might even face Frieri. San Diego released veteran second baseman Orlando Hudson Thursday, opening a door for Amarista.
Frieri has been a key addition to the Angels bullpen, having made five scoreless appearances, virtually all of them in high-pressure situations. Frieri has become the right-handed complement to closer Scott Downs and pitches almost exclusively in the eighth and ninth innings. His acquisition has brought order to the most chaotic part of the team for the first month.
The move also has benefited Frieri's career. He was working the middle innings for the Padres, whose bullpen is deeper than the Angels'.
"The Angels gave me a chance to pitch in close situations and I love it," Frieri said. "I think every Latin pitcher likes that, because we love adrenaline. We're used to pitching in winter ball in front of all those full crowds, screaming the whole game."