“It’s funny how this game works,” Anthony Herrera likes to say.
Oh, baseball can be funny, all right. For instance, Anthony, a five-year veteran of professional independent ball, got to smile plenty the last two seasons at the theatrics of his Toros de Tijuana teammate Fernando Rodney, the former big-league All-Star who still performs his bow-and-arrow routine upon notching a save.
“La Flecha. The Arrow,” Anthony noted with a grin of the beloved Rodney. “He calls himself that.”
But then there’s the sport’s “funny” nature that can throw you for a loop like a well-executed knuckleball. That pushes you in ways you never could have anticipated. That tests your character, your commitment and your love for the game.
That’s the kind of funny that has Herrera still chasing his dream at age 27 in a different country, playing a different position than he ever imagined.
“I think it’s a funny joke to myself that, all this time I’m hitting and all this time I'm doing this hitting work and ultimately I become a pitcher,” Anthony said recently from his apartment in Guasave, Mexico, where he is pitching for the the Algodoneros de Guasave in the Liga ARCO Mexicano del Pacífico.
“He's always hunting and searching and looking for opportunities,” Anthony’s mother Tricia Wilson said of her son. “Looking for ways to be better. Just loving it so much and wanting to make it better.”
Anthony has found so many ways to stay afloat amidst baseball’s survival-of-the-fittest environment. The dream remains alive: Can someone from Major League Baseball find him?
This story begins with Tricia Wilson, because that’s where Anthony starts it. “She was a much better athlete than I was,” Anthony boasted of his mom, who excelled as a pitcher for Eisenhower High School in Houston.
“When I started him playing, he was probably not quite three yet,” Tricia recalled of Anthony. “They had a league that was for 4-year-olds and I had a friend that kind of ran the league. Anthony already knew the basics and was able to play. So they let him play up with the 4-year-olds. He was still in diapers.”
The diaper dandy liked soccer, too, and played football in middle school — he lived in Texas, after all — before Tricia put a stop to that. Said Anthony, who now is 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds: “I wasn't the biggest kid growing up. She saw me take hits in football and was like, ‘All right, yeah that’s it. I think we’re going to stick with baseball now.’” Although, as Tricia noted, Anthony “would even play (football) with friends in high school for fun just in the neighborhood and he usually wouldn't tell me because he knew I would say no.”
Anthony focused on baseball at McKinney North High School in North Texas, where his family moved in his fourth-grade year, and that propelled him to a roster spot at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, a Division I program. He excelled enough in college, playing the middle infield, that, Anthony said, he engaged with scouts from two MLB clubs, the Rangers and the Pirates. When the 2017 amateur draft took place, however, Anthony’s name never hit the board.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bug me,” Anthony said.
“I think we were all very shocked,” Tricia said.
The family huddled. Anthony could attend individual MLB teams’ showcases and try to sign as a free agent. He could play independent ball. Or he could give up baseball and go on with his life. It proved to be a pretty easy decision, especially after his mom told him, “Go with your gut.”
“I told her, ‘I’m a competitor. I feel like I'm a gamer,’” Anthony recalled. “It’s not something that I can go to those showcases and (dominate). I’m not going to wow you with power. I’m not going to wow you with crazy speed or anything like that. But I believe I'm a winner. I’m somebody that wants to win the game and do whatever it takes to win the game.”
At ULM, “whatever it takes” included pitching; he wound up recording 23 saves in a Warhawks uniform. Yet the MLB scouts assessed him as an infielder, he said. When he signed with the Normal CornBelters of the unaffiliated Frontier League, however, the mound became his primary workplace.
“I love the idea of commanding the game as much as you can,” Anthony said. “I miss fielding the most. Sometimes you make a good play but because you’re a pitcher, it looks fantastic. That part of you doesn’t go away. Bouncing off the mound, getting a bunt, those are my favorite plays to try to make.”
After three seasons in the Frontier League, another decision point arrived in 2020, when COVID shut down most of the world’s baseball. Anthony had been set to spend the year playing in Australia, only to fly home in March.
He and his parents had what Anthony called a “very emotional” conversation. “I told them, ‘I feel like I've given myself opportunities,’” Anthony said. “‘Year in, year out, I’ve been a top reliever, a big situational guy, and I still haven’t gotten any chatter.’
“We kept telling him, ‘If you still want to do it, what do we care?’” Tricia said of herself and her husband, George Wilson. “‘We don’t support you. You’re self-sufficient. You’re an adult. You have a college education. There are jobs out there that you could get tomorrow if you wanted. But ultimately you have the rest of your life to work. And you have the degree (a bachelor’s of science in construction management) to do it in a very successful field.
“‘If your body is still able and you mentally want to still do it, then do it.’”
“I went all in,” Anthony said, and that meant working at APEC, in nearby Fort Worth, with pitching guru Ryan Sullins, a protege of the legendary Tom House. “It was the first time I've ever been exposed to someone teaching me how to be a pitcher, not just a thrower,” Anthony said. “The first time I’ve been on the mound and have a lot of involved thinking.”
The result has been two stellar seasons with Tijuana in the highly regarded, hitter-friendly Mexican League, which features a bevy of guys with major-league experience and a big-time atmosphere. As Anthony put it, “Picture a soccer match, but baseball. When my family first came over, it was a huge sensory overload for them.” On that stage, he has compiled a 2.35 ERA over 54 appearances totaling 61 ⅓ innings, striking out 57 and walking only 14.
Bronswell Patrick, who pitched two years in the big leagues (1998 with the Brewers and 1999 with the Giants), served as the Toros’ pitching coach in 2021, when the club won the league championship. He said recently of Anthony: “I was very impressed by his poise on the mound. Going from a position player to a pitcher, he had actually good mechanics and very good movement on his fastball and sinker. His slider was a little big at times, but we worked on it and worked on it, got it a little bit shorter. He would mix in changeups. I thought he did a good job of keeping hitters off stride and getting groundballs when he needed to.”
Asked if he thought that Anthony could pitch at the game’s highest level, Patrick said, “You know what? He’s actually come a long way in a short period of time. It’s definitely a possibility. I was a 23rd-round pick out of high school (in 1988) and I ended up in the big leagues. Anybody who has a uniform on has a possibility to go to the big leagues.
“He’s going to get stronger, more pitch-savvy. He’s going to mature more as a pitcher. There are teams out there that need groundballs.”
Anthony’s 2022 Toros bullpen mates included known names like Oliver Perez, Sam Dyson and Javy Guerra in addition to the ageless Rodney.
“To be on that list, it was really cool,” Anthony said. “It really showed all of the time I was investing in myself in the offseason was finally paying off, all kind of coming together. It was a really big step for me personally.
“I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. I’m in the right area to start getting serious looks from teams back in the States.”
You might be wondering why the heck we’re focusing on a pitcher here at BRUCE BOLT. Well, Anthony started wearing our gloves during his brief stay in Australia. He enjoyed them so much that he has become an ambassador of sorts in Mexico, convincing some 50 or so Mexican League players to give them a shot.
BRUCE BOLT sends the gloves to San Diego, where Anthony retrieves them and drives them over the border.
“I’m not any red flag,” Anthony said, explaining that he has Global Entry and goes through the fast lane. One time in spring training, though, Anthony wasn’t available to pick up a large delivery, so a team employee ran the errand.
“He didn’t know what was in the box,” Anthony said. “They got stopped and had to open it up. It was just a bunch of batting gloves and armbands. The border officials said, ‘Oh, OK, go on.’”
Pretty funny, right? The game works in so many funny ways. Don’t bet against Anthony getting the last laugh in pursuit of his dreams.