16 Apr Audy Ciriaco is BACK!
Photo: Phil Hoops
Big Hitter is Team Leader
You could say that Audy Ciriaco was born to play baseball. Or, at the very least, you could definitely say that he was born in the right place to play baseball.
The Miners first baseman comes from the always-sunny, baseball-crazed Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic, and, in particular, from a town in that country with a nearly-sacred name in the world of baseball – San Pedro de Macoris.
More than 50 Major Leaguers have come from this one town along the southeast coast of the island, including shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who just signed a $340 million contract extension with the San Diego Padres before this season.
Big League all-stars from San Pedro de Macoris include well-known names like Robinson Cano, Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano, George Bell, Tony Fernandez, and Joaquin Andujar, just to name a few.
Clearly, this is no ordinary town.
“It was a great place to grow up and I’m still here, I still love it,” Ciriaco said by phone, looking ahead to coming north before the Miners open the season at Skylands Stadium on May 27.
“When you walk out of your house here, you see baseball. Kids play baseball here every day all year round. Anywhere you go here, you’re going to bump into a baseball game.
“All my life, I will always love baseball,” he said. “I’m very happy to be able to play again this year with the Miners. I’ve enjoyed playing there the past two years.”
His numbers certainly back that up.
After 11 years with Major League farm teams, plus a one-year adventure playing in Japan, Ciriaco arrived in Sussex County in 2018 and batted .294 with 11 home runs and 65 RBIs in 100 games.
In 2019, he hit .328 with nine homers and 70 RBIs in 92 games.
“Yeah, I was hitting the ball pretty well,” Ciriaco said modestly.
“In the past, I would have hot streaks but then I’d fall off. Over the years, though, you learn what you have to do to get out of a slump. For me, it’s usually that I’m opening up too much, pulling my head or my shoulder. You’ve always got to work at hitting, you’ve got to work, and you’ve got to use your experience to figure things out and get back on track.”
In fact, Ciriaco will be the most experienced player on the Miners roster, turning 34 years old on June 16.
“All that experience is part of what makes him a leader on this team,” said manager Bobby Jones.
“He brings a nice level of calm to the team, very level, never too high, never too low. Some of the younger guys see that and they see that that’s the way you’ve got to be to be successful in this game day in and day out.
“Audi is definitely a leader out there. He’s a leader on the field and he’s a leader in the way he conducts himself and sets an example.”
Back home in the DR, there are pro scouts at little league games and at impromptu games in the parks and on the streets. Ciriaco was “discovered” in 2005 and signed by the Detroit Tigers as an international free agent at age 18.
Two years earlier, his older brother, Pedro Ciriaco, was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he wound up playing six big-league seasons for the Pirates, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Padres, Royals and Braves, enjoying his best year with Boston in 2012, when he hit .293 in 76 games.
As for Audy, he played eight seasons with the Detroit organization, mostly shuttling between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. He signed with the Miami Marlins in 2013, then with the Cleveland Indians in 2014, playing his last season of affiliated ball in 2015, when he appeared in 77 games for Cleveland’s Triple-A squad in Columbus.
Since then, he’s played in the Dominican Winter League and he batted .291 in 2017 for the Yokohama Bay Stars, of the Japan Eastern League, before coming to the Miners in 2018.
After that season, Ciriaco considered retiring.
“I thought about hanging up the spikes,” he said. “My wife, Jediliza, convinced me to keep playing. She knew how much I loved it and she didn’t want to see me give it up when I was still enjoying it so much.”
He certainly enjoyed batting .328 in 2019. He laughs a little when he talks about a rare instance of going to the plate looking for a home run, then delivering a blast to tie the game during the playoffs.
What could be more important than the stats and the homers?
“I play hard, and I try to be a good teammate. That’s what counts,” he said.
Talk to Audi for two minutes, and two things are clear:
He wants to put up more big numbers in 2021, and he’ll do it with class and a smile.
By Carl Barbati. Former Sports Editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and Trentonian.