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Niebla mentoring minor league pitchers

August 13, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

For six years from spring until early fall, Calexico native Ruben Niebla has been competing in minor league professional baseball.

For five of those years he was relieving for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos AA and AAA affiliates.

Before the start of this season his pitching career was put on hold when he underwent gall bladder surgery.

In that instant the 29-year-old went from being a professional baseball player whose stock was on the rise while a member of the Dodgers AAA affiliate to a player whose future was somewhat in doubt.

Adding insult to injury was before the start of the 2001 season Niebla had been invited to the San Diego Padres spring training.

"That was a really tough decision to make, having to turn them down," said Niebla, a 1990 graduate of Calexico High. "That's something you work for, to get an invitation to spring training, and then to have to turn it down. That was just tough."

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Just when he seemingly hit bottom, Niebla started receiving calls from major league teams inquiring about his availability. The teams weren't asking about whether he could play but whether he would coach.

Coaching was something he always had in the back of his mind but he didn't want to pursue it until his playing days were over.

He eventually decided to take a pitching coach job with the Cleveland Indians A-level affiliate, the Columbus RedStixx from Columbus, Ga., who compete in the South Atlantic League.

"Coaching is something I've always wanted to do. I always said that when I was done playing, I would like to go into it," said Niebla, who played collegiately at Azusa Pacific. "Then when I was out, I was getting calls from teams about coaching and I was definitely interested.

"The reason I chose to go with Cleveland was that they were offering a job where I'd be coaching players that have already had professional experience," said Niebla. "So to me, that was a compliment. I didn't have much coaching experience, but for them to offer me a job on that level was pretty nice."

Niebla also was offered a job by the San Francisco Giants in their rookie league, where he would have been dealing with players straight out of high school and college.

While it is his first professional coaching job, Niebla has turned the RedStixx pitching staff into one of the best in the SAL with a 3.19 team ERA.

Niebla was rewarded for his coaching with a spot as pitching coach in the A-level All-Star game after being selected by RedStixx manager Ted Kubiak.

While Niebla has become a top-notch pitching coach, he still would like to be competing.

"There are some times when I miss it, like when the guys are out there playing and I see some players on other teams that are making it to AAA that I know I'm better than. That's when I miss it," said Niebla. "But then there are times when I see players struggling out there and I think about it and I really don't miss it."

All in all, though, Niebla would like to get back into playing.

"Right now I feel good and my surgery wasn't baseball-related, so I can still play. That competitiveness never goes away," Niebla said. "I know that I can still compete at a higher level, so if I were to get another opportunity, I'd definitely go for it."

Until then Niebla will continue to work for the RedStixx — who are 2 1/2 games out of first place in the South Division — and gain experience as a coach.

"I'm just taking this as a learning experience for the future. At first it was tough seeing guys that I played with getting ready for spring training and I was just there watching," said Niebla. "But now I really enjoy what I'm doing. It's a great feeling to teach these younger guys different things and to see them progress and use what you've taught them. I think more than anything, I get joy from helping these guys become better baseball players. And there's not a lot of people who can do that."

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