Odrisamer Despaigne is an easy man to root for. His route to Major League Baseball began in 2007, when he defected from his native Cuba and began legal residence in Spain. Shortly thereafter, he signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres, and quickly rose through the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues. Despaigne made his major league debut for the Padres on June 20 of last year, pitching seven shutout innings against San Francisco. His rise to the Padres’ rotation is not unlike his pitching style – quick, electric, and with a bit of surprise.
Despaigne has an elegant wind-up, a balance-teetering repertoire of off-speed pitches, and a violent leg kick that all evoke shades of Yankee legend Orlando Hernandez. In spite of Despaigne’s El-Duque-esque pitching mechanics, however, his hitting skills leave much to be desired.
His poise on the mound is in direct contrast to his awkward stance, dragging swing, and weak follow-through. The way he handles the bat makes it look like it either weighs several tons, or is a literal wet newspaper as described by Max Scherzer. Even Despaigne’s helmet looks somewhat awkward on him. Needless to say, he is not a hitter.
(In all fairness, it must be understood that pitchers such as Despaigne were not asked to bat in his native Cuba. While his fly-swatting swings are painful to look at, they are made in good effort by a player who has little experience doing so. In a way, Despaigne’s hitting can be likened to position players being asked to pitch in emergency situations.)
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that his first MLB hit seemed like something that would never come. He swings like a Little Leaguer who forgot to take the weight donut off the bat, so contact was a rarity. A base hit, no less? It seemed as likely as the Chargers trading Philip Rivers.
When Despaigne somehow punched through a base hit during April 20th’s 14-3 rout of the Colorado Rockies, the Padres’ world stood still. Despaigne had defied the odds, beat the expectations, and accomplished what seemed to be the impossible. His teammates in the dugout erupted in cheers and disbelief, and a few of them were now due to pay.
It was revealed by Fox Sports San Diego commentators Dick Enberg and Mark Grant that Despaigne had won a bet with Padre outfielders Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, and pitchers Andrew Cashner and Joaquin Benoit. The four Padres had wagered against Despaigne getting his first hit during the 2015 season, and were willing to purchase new sets of clothes for the Cuban pitcher in the event they lost. In an interview with Mike Pomeranz, Despaigne revealed that had he not recorded a hit this year, he would have lost the bet and been required to shave his eyebrows after the season.
Despaigne’s ground ball into right field brought an end to the saga, and his four teammates suddenly owed him a new wardrobe. Despaigne tweeted on Monday that Kemp and Benoit had paid their share, purchasing shoes, belts, a backpack, and other accessories from Louis Vuitton in downtown San Francisco’s Union Square. Cashner has promised to pay his debt during the team’s July visit to Arlington to play the Rangers, while Upton was due earlier this week.
The glory behind Despaigne’s first hit and the playful drama behind the bet provide fans with a glimpse into the culture of the Padres’ dugout. It is an example of the team’s fraternity-like camaraderie, the force behind twenty-five men who are more than just teammates. Quite simply, they’re a big group of buddies, a big bus of pals traveling between towns and winning baseball games. It’s the small things, like the Despaigne bet and Wil Myers‘ playful interaction with everyone in the dugout, that makes the wins sweeter and the losses less bitter. These are the things that call into question the doubt that critics had before the beginning of the season, their concern that AJ Preller’s offseason acquisitions would lead to a lack of team chemistry in San Diego.
Between hundreds of thousands of miles of travel and six months of near-daily competition, the baseball season is a marathon. Without a doubt, it’s much easier when the members of a team get along. That’s a quality that this year’s Padres have, win or lose.
Meanwhile, Odrisamer Despaigne can’t help but smirk everytime he comes up to bat now.
After all, he’s already won.