November 11, 1971: Roland de la Maza
The son of a Cuban immigrant whose goal was to teach his first son how to play the game he loved, Roland de la Maza flew under the radar for most of his career. He turns 48 today. Pitching at Cal-State Sacramento in the early 90's, he routinely was among Division I's most consistent pitchers, posting sub 3.00 ERAs. However, he was passed over in the MLB Draft his junior year.
After returning for his senior season, his play was able to convince the Cleveland Indians to take him in the 15th round. Following four years in the Indians' organization, which saw him peak at Double-A, he was promoted to Triple-A where he spent all of 1997 before the trade that helped his dream come true. He was dealt to the Kansas City Royals on August 30 in exchange for Bip Roberts and was immediately made a September call up.
Suddenly, after five years with the Indians, his ultimate baseball dream was being fulfilled in a different uniform. On September 26, he made his major-league debut against the White Sox at Comiskey Park. He was the first man out of the bullpen in the sixth inning with the Royals trailing 6-2. It wasn't long before he was welcomed to the big leagues. The first batter he faced, Ray Durham, took him deep to lead off the inning, making it 7-2.
De la Maza settled down after that, actually recording four outs in the sixth inning. He struck out Mike Cameron, who ended up reaching on a dropped third strike, then got Frank Thomas and Albert Belle each to fly out. After walking Robin Ventura, he got Magglio Ordonez to fly out to end the threat. Back out for the seventh he came and he set down Chicago in order. Dave Martinez and Ron Karkovice each flew out to left field and Norberto Martin ended the inning with a lineout to right.
With that, de la Maza's day was done. After giving up a home run on the third pitch of his career, he had done his best to settle in and left with a 4.50 ERA. It would turn out to be his lifetime ERA. He did not get another chance to pitch with Kansas City that season and was sent to Triple-A Omaha in 1998 where he struggled to a 5.36 ERA before being released. He held on and signed with the Athletics, pitching to a 12.00 ERA in just four starts for their Triple-A affiliate in Vancouver.
Like that, de la Maza's journey in professional baseball was over, less than two years after his one day in the sun. His story is a subtle reminder that for as long as the journey can seem to a player dedicating their life to a singular dream, that journey can be over in an instant and, in most cases, without fair warning.