FORMER San Francisco Giants pitcher Geno Espineli is looking beyond the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Taiwan this week as he looks to pitch in and help the sport grow in his parents' homeland.
Espineli is expected to lead the pitching staff of the Philippines in the battle against regional rivals Chinese Taipei, Thailand, and New Zealand in the November 15 to 18 qualifiers in New Taipei City.
But Espineli said he hopes to deliver more than just fastballs and changeups for the Philippines, hoping that success in the World Baseball Classic would serve as a catalyst for the sport's renaissance in the country.
"We hope that our team's success can show the Philippines that their younger generation can develop into great athletes especially if given adequate opportunities to enhance their skills,” said Espineli in the interview with Mlb.com.
"Countries like Taiwan have five times less the population of the Philippines, but the level of baseball interest and development is much greater. There is no reason that Filipino athletes cannot be world-class. I believe we have the talent. I just hope that one day I can see that talent blossom into more professional athletes."
Espineli played for the Giants in 2008 but has not returned to the major league since. He recently graduated with a degree in sports management and seems to have a plan in mind for Philippine baseball.
“With my education, and along with the help of others dedicated to baseball's growth, the foundation (already) exists to help grow the sport (in the Philippines). It starts with more fields with adequate lighting. It involves encouraging all kids to play sports, not just baseball or basketball," he said.
“We need coaches with the right training. We need to find athletes that have the determination and ability to succeed in baseball, and we need to put our support behind them.”
Espineli added he is hoping to persuade other Filipino-American players to bring and share to the Philippines the knowledge they have gained playing in the top leagues in America.
"I hope to return to the Philippines in the future with other (Filipino-American) players in tow. I see great opportunity to build and expand the sport from the ground up,” Espineli said.
Espineli visited the country in 2008 and was surprised with the number of kids playing the game.
“What surprised me the most that day was the amount of ability that some of the younger kids had. The thing they did not have was the facilities or equipment to foster their development in the future," he said.
“I left that day feeling good about the enthusiasm for baseball, but frustrated about the amount of support given to these kids compared to other, more popular sports,” he added.
From four qualifiers held around the world, the World Baseball Classic concludes with a 16-team championship round in March at AT&T Park in San Francisco, where Espineli debuted in the Majors in 2008.
"I couldn't have been more proud as I looked into the stands and saw my family and fiancé clapping in joy," he said. "I see others in the Philippines with that kind of passion, and I don't want to see that wasted."