By César Augusto Márquez
Venezuela has produced many All-Stars over the past decade: José Altuve, Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera, “King” Felix Hernández. Salvador Pérez. Carlos González. It is an impressive list. Yet, they have yet to achieve what David Concepción did.
Concepción stands alone as the sole Venezuelan to be named Most Valuable Player at an All-Star Game.
The legendary shortstop of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s and parts of the 80s doesn’t live only in the glory days of the past. He remains very active these days, particularly in his role as a developer of talent in the baseball academy that he runs in his native Maracay, Venezuela.
A Teacher’s Golden Moment
One afternoon in early June, Concepción showed his pupils the video of the 1982 All-Star Game, when he became the first Venezuelan to become the Most Valuable Player of the Midsummer Classic.
Neither former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera nor Jose Altuve the reigning American League MVP have achieved what Concepcion accomplished July 3, 1982, at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
Concepción had a special night at the home of the late Expos. He jumped on a slider from future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and deposited it in the left field bleachers to give the National League the lead for good.
“That has been one of the most glorious moments of my career as a player,” Concepción told La Vida Baseball. “I knew Dennis Eckersley very well. Actually, we had eaten breakfast together on different occasions.
“Jesus Marcano ‘Manny’ Trillo knew his entire pitching repertoire. Sparky Anderson, who was like a father to me, was also on that American League All-Star team coaching staff and told them not to throw high pitches. But Eckersley left a slider up that didn’t break. It wasn’t a sinker, as the analysts said.”
Concepción’s huge hit was delivered in the second inning. Although the NL scored two more runs, that early window gave the NL victory and sealed the MVP award for Concepción.
“When the game was ending it was an open secret in the clubhouse that I would be picked as the Most Valuable Player, something very special,” he said. “That day my wife Ernestina and my son David Alejandro, who was very young, were with me.
He jokingly has one minor complaint.
“In that era, the players who were chosen as MVP of the All-Star Game received a new car. I didn’t receive one because it was the first time the event was held outside of the United States. That was only bad thing. There’s still time for them to give it to me, now that I need it,” he said with a chuckle.
Concepción keeps himself occupied with a baseball academy to develop players. His son David Alejandro runs the academy, but the legend stops by every once in a while to give advice to the young players.
“I try to share my knowledge with the kids whenever I have the chance,” he said. “When we showed the video of the All-Star Game I tried to show them how they should react to a high pitch that doesn’t break. Baseball has changed a lot.”
Concepción, who had 2,326 hits in 2,488 games over 19 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds from 1970 through 1988, notes that baseball has changed dramatically since he was an active player. His awareness of these changes is part of what he seeks to use in helping young Venezuelans in their development.
“When I was a ballplayer one would sign at 18 or 19 years old, as I did,” he said. “One had the maturity to tackle what came. Now the kids practically leave from childhood to confront the world of adults, which is professional baseball. That maturity was what helped me undertake my first step to the minor leagues.
“When I arrived in the United States I didn’t speak English, and that obviously brings some difficulties, especially to order food or make friendships. But in baseball I knew I could count on the language of hits and good defensive plays. That’s what I took advantage of to reach the big leagues. I think that understanding that is part of the maturing process.”
Another Star in Cincinnati
Since the era when Concepción played, there hasn’t been a Venezuelan player in a starring role for the Reds. The erstwhile shortstop of the Big Red Machine believes that Eugenio Suarez could change that.
Suarez, who will turn 27 on July 18, earned his first All-Star berth this season. He is having a career year. He has been among the RBI leaders in the NL all season.
Concepción has noticed Suarez’s surge.
“Of course I keep up with what the Cincinnati Reds do,” Concepción said. “To me it’s very good knowing that again there’s a Venezuelan in a starring role.
“Eugenio is a very talented young man. I’ve had the opportunity to give him advice, and I’d like to do it again. Hopefully he’ll have career similar to mine in that city.”
Concepción won’t attend this year’s All-Star Game although he’s still waiting for his All-Star Game MVP prize 36 years later.
“They didn’t invite me this time,” he said, “but I still want my car.”
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