Hammerheads Get Fleitas Back, Send Jaramillo to N’Awlins

Ever since the Jackson Hammerheads lost 3B Kim Fleitas in the expansion draft, team owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler has been a man on a mission.  Butler, who has consistently argued that Fleitas was mistakenly left exposed in the draft, has tried everything to get Fleitas back into the fold.  According to sources, Butler had bombarded the New Orleans Sazeracs, the team that picked Fleitas, with trade proposals on a near-daily basis.  “When I want something, I keep going until I get it,” said Butler.

When the Hammerheads acquired 3B Max Ortiz from the California Sharks last weekend, it was widely seen around the league as an acknowledgement of defeat in Butler’s relentless pursuit of a reunion with Fleitas.  But on draft day, the Hammerheads and Sazeracs announced a surprising deal: Fleitas is coming home to Jackson, while RF Alex Jaramillo heads down to the Big Easy.

Kim Fleitas

“Victory is mine!” crowed Butler.  “It took a while, but I got my guy back.”

It’s not hard to see why Butler was so eager to get Fleitas back.  The 26-year-old third sacker hit .287 with 17 homers and 130 RBI last season, and was generally acknowledged as one of the league’s best at the hot corner, despite a shaky reputation with the glove.  “Kim’s a pretty quiet guy, but he’s definitely one of our team leaders,” said Hammerheads 2B Homer Righter.  “One of those guys who shows up every day, does his job and does it well.  I’m thrilled that he’s back.”

Alex Jaramillo

Few in the Jackson clubhouse had a similarly glowing assessment of Jaramillo.  The 26-year-old slugger, picked up from the Knoxville Smokies last season in the infamous Eddie Battin deal, put up disappointing numbers with the Heads, hitting .258 with 16 dingers.  In addition, he was an unpopular figure in the clubhouse, quickly earning a reputation for being moody and selfish.  It didn’t help matters that he was acquired for the hugely popular Battin, or that he got hurt shortly after arriving in Jackson and wound up spending over a month on the DL amid accusations of malingering.

“This is a great deal all around,” said one Jackson player.  “We get Kim back, which is a plus for us, and we get rid of Jaramillo, which is basically addition by subtraction.  Win-win.”

The Sazeracs are banking on a return to form for Jaramillo in an environment that might be a better fit.  Jackson has made a point of de-emphasizing power, a smart decision given the cavernous dimensions of Cash Carter Downs.  New Orleans has a more longball-friendly park, and they’re looking to Jaramillo to be a big bopper in the heart of their order.

“There’s a thing called talent!  We don’t have it,” said Sazeracs manager George Knox.  “Alex is a naturally talented guy, and this is a place where I think we can make the most of it.”

Asked if he was concerned about the negative reports out of Jackson about Jaramillo, Knox replied, “You can’t go through life thinking everyone you meet will let you down. Because if you do, a very bad thing will happen. You’ll end up like me.”

Now that Jackson has their old third baseman back, are they done dealing ahead of the season?  “No comment on that,” Butler said with a laugh.  “I’m a fishing guy, so I’ve always got my line in the water. ”

Fleitas Welcomes Chance to Play

Gilberto Fleitas
Gilberto Fleitas

Gilberto Fleitas, who is slated to break camp as the Milwaukee Bear Claws’ designated hitter, expressed his gratitude to the Bear Claws organization and to the Patriot League for allowing him to pursue a dream he thought was dead.  “I am so lucky to be here right now,” Fleitas told reporters. “Baseball is so much to me, and I am overflowing with joy at the opportunity to play once again.”

It has been a long and winding road for the 26-year-old Fleitas.  He grew up in the Dominican Republic idolizing Sammy Sosa and dreaming of being a Major League outfielder someday.  “Where I come from, we have two industries: baseball and sugar cane,” Fleitas said.  “If you are not able to play, you will spend your life cutting cane.”  Fleitas showed promise as a young, fleet, power-hitting outfielder; scouts began talking to him at the age of 13.  “They told me I could be the next Sammy, maybe,” Fleitas recalled.

When Fleitas was 15, his family moved to America in search of a better life: “My father said that baseball was a lottery ticket, and he was not going to have his sons spend their life cutting cane.”  Fleitas proved to be a decent student as well as a gifted athlete.  He received a scholarship to the University of East Florida, and MLB clubs considered drafting him out of high school.

Fleitas starred at UEF, batting over .400 and displaying an incredible outfield arm that scouts compared to Roberto Clemente.  In his senior year, he was drafted in the 7th round by the Chicago Cubs.  But then, tragedy struck.  At the end of the baseball season, Fleitas went to Daytona Beach with his teammates for a party weekend.  He was waterskiing when his friend lost control of the boat; Fleitas wound up slamming into a dock.  “The doctors told me it was a miracle that I was not dead,” Fleitas said.

It took Fleitas over six months before he could walk again, and a year before he returned to a baseball diamond.  When he did, he discovered that his magnificent throwing arm was gone: “I could barely throw the ball back to the infield.”  He did recover his hitting stroke, however, and remained determined to live his professional dream.  Fleitas worked with family and ex-teammates over the next two years to get back into playing shape.

In 2014, Fleitas’ perseverance was rewarded with a spring training invitation from the Minnesota Twins.  Unfortunately, bad luck struck again: in his third exhibition game, he stumbled rounding first base and severely sprained his ankle.  He wound up being cut by the Twins, and when no other team took a chance, he figured his career was over.

“I cried for a week, because I came so close and it was all stolen away,” Fleitas said.  During his recovery, he had taken a job as a high-school PE teacher in Hialeah, Florida, and he returned to that position, seemingly for good.  “I figured that God must want me as a teacher instead of a player,” he said.

But his fortunes changed this spring, thanks to the Patriot League and a little help from family.  Kim Fleitas, Gilberto’s younger brother, attended PL tryouts and was picked up by the league, and he recommended Gilberto to PL scouts.  “I knew he could still play,” Kim said, “and we have always looked out for each other.”  When Gilberto was drafted by Milwaukee, he was shocked and then thrilled.  “I thought my time was done,” he said on the night of the draft.  “But thanks to God and my brother and the Bear Claws, I have one more chance.”  While he had hoped to wind up on the same team as his brother (who was drafted by the Jackson Hammerheads), “I am just grateful to be anywhere.”

With the security of a two-year deal and the support of Bear Claws manager Poss Horton, Fleitas looks forward to showing what he can do at the professional level.  “I am excited to pay back everyone who has believed in me,” he said.  “The best way for me to do that is to play well and succeed.”  And whenever the Bear Claws play the Hammerheads, he plans to have dinner with his brother beforehand.  “He can pick the place, and the meal will be my treat,” Gilberto said.  “It’s the least I can do.”