Times-Herald (Vallejo)

Athletics' newcomer delays life as farmer

- By Jon Becker

Christian Bethancour­t is part of the new generation of Oakland Athletics. Like many of them, he never imagined he'd be here.

While a lot of this year's A's assumed they might be playing somewhere other than in Oakland right now, baseball in the United States wasn't always part of Bethancour­t's plan this season. He believed he'd be back home in Panama, starting a new profession — working as a farmer.

Once one of the major leagues' most heralded prospects, a catcher blessed with an arm that helped carry him to the big leagues with Atlanta as a 21-yearold, Bethancour­t now had to be honest with himself. He hadn't been a major leaguer since 2017 and his baseball career was going nowhere — a disappoint­ing season playing in Korea in 2019 was followed by a worse one in 2020, when he was cut by the Phillies after a spring training tryout. Even a strong Triple-A season with the Pirates last year didn't earn Bethancour­t a call-up.

It was time to make a difficult decision. Adaptabili­ty has always been in Bethancour­t's nature — he's one of the rare major leaguers to be both a pitcher and a position player (as in just about every position: catcher, first baseman, second baseman, left fielder, right fielder). But, at

30 years old, was he ready to be flexible enough to give up his dream of becoming a major leaguer again?

“I was very much sure at that time that I wasn't gonna make it back to the major leagues, which was my first and my only goal,” said Bethancour­t. “I thought I had a really good year with the Pirates and I did not get a call back to the major leagues. Those are the times when you think (about your future).”

So, he did the sensible thing when confronted with a fork in his baseball road. He chose food and self-sustainmen­t.

Bethancour­t literally bet the farm on himself. Sensing two years ago this day would come, the self-described “city boy” partnered with his brother-in-law to purchase a 17-acre spread in his native Panama, where they would raise cattle and become meat and dairy farmers.

“I live in downtown Panama (City), but I always had that vision of liking animals and owning land out in the country, you know?” said Bethancour­t, whose farm is in Aguadulce, an agricultur­e and industrial zone about 120 miles from the bustling capital. “I'm a big fan of the farms, so I started thinking outside baseball and making an investment on a farm.”

Business on the farm was a bit slow during the pandemic, Bethancour­t said, but it's been growing back the past few months and he was prepared to devote himself to the job.

Then everything changed when Bethancour­t received a call from the A's this past winter. His hands-on farming experience would have to wait. He left his brotherin-law in charge of the farm and quickly signed a minor league contract with Oakland, which included a spring training invite.

“I was very excited to sign with the A's, knowing the opportunit­y I could have here,” said Bethancour­t, fully realizing Oakland was in the middle of a rebuild and that many big league jobs would be opening up.

He admittedly wasn't prepared for just how quickly he'd earn one again. After batting a sizzling .391 with an OPS of 1.053 in spring training, Bethancour­t was summoned to Toronto after the first week of the season.

“My expectatio­ns were never to be (here) this soon in the major leagues,” said Bethancour­t, who came into Friday's game batting just .189, despite some quality at-bats. “It was (supposed to be) more of `leave a good impression in spring training, go to Triple-A, do your thing and wait for something to happen.'

“Hey, things change!” Bethancour­t has never ascended to the heights predicted of him when Atlanta signed him as a 16-year-old internatio­nal free agent in 2008. He's played parts of six seasons while batting .219 with eight home runs in 506 at-bats.

 ?? JED JACOBSOHN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Oakland Athletics' Christian Bethancour­t (23) throws a ball to a fan before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Oakland Thursday.
JED JACOBSOHN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Oakland Athletics' Christian Bethancour­t (23) throws a ball to a fan before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Oakland Thursday.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States