A Brave New World
In 2017, teams in the Bundesliga North will be facing off against a new addition to the Bonn Capitals pitching staff. Angelo Paulino is a 30-year old RHP that hasn’t stepped foot on the diamond for competitive play since 2012. Last week he was still consistently throwing 90mph.
Signed by the Braves as a non-drafted free agent in 2006, Paulino was on a steady rise in the organization. He worked through rookie ball into short season A and was in full season A+ looking at AA. His ERA was sitting at 3.16 and he was striking out players 62% more often than walking them.
Spring training 2011, it all disappeared. Early on he realized there was something wrong with his arm. Tests determined Tommy John surgery was needed and that put him out for the season.
In 2012, he was released but decided to train for a comeback. He was throwing hard again when he was hit in the forehead with a line drive. That put him out for two more months. He started throwing once again but, “my shoulder was bugging me so I got an MRI. I had some bursitis there and, I don’t know, I just got a little disappointed. That’s when I decided, ‘let me do something else’,” Angelo told baseballEBM.
Paulino, a Dominican Republic native, moved to Germany in 2016, with his native-born wife. He picked up the ball in late November to begin preparing for the season to come. Hired to pitch and assistant coach, the Capitals are gaining so much more than just a body to put into the rotation. baseballEBM sat down with Angelo to learn more about his journey to their bench. We started with his decision to leave the game.
What have you been up to since 2012?
I move to New York City and started working in a hotel and I used to translate. Since I had physical therapy, I was more inclined to that area so I decided to do a massage therapy course. I like to work with people. After that I married a German woman. While in the States I played some softball because my uncle likes it. I just continued playing softball there, just for fun, just to enjoy it because it’s similar and it’s a game. I like to compete.
We worked in the States a little bit but my wife didn’t like it that much so we said, ‘Okay, let’s try Germany’. When I got here I tried to find some baseball because I thought ‘let me find something to have fun so I can use it to the learn the culture and language.’
I started to look for some baseball and I found a photo of Daniel Lamb Hunt on the Bundesliga website. He was in extended spring training with me with the Braves. We got to share a little bit of time together while in training. I saw his photo and I was like, I know this guy! That’s when I was like, ‘Okay, let me go to Bonn and watch some of their games.’ Dan killed it last year in the league so I decided to reach out via Facebook and go watch a playoff game. That’s when I was like, you know what, let’s try it out here, have some fun and enjoy the game.
Do you live in Bonn?
I live about an hour north. Solingen is actually closer to me. I reached out to them but we never seemed to connect. I really wanted to play in the Bundesliga so I decided to open the conversation with the Capitals.
You’ll be assistant coaching as well. Is this your first coaching experience?
Yeah, in anything.
How do you feel about it?
It’s just a new experience just to get to help out the guys, especially pitching-wise because that’s where my whole life has been. If I can help a pitcher get better then that’ll be, how do I say this right, I get so mixed up with all the languages, it just fills your heart when you can help somebody and make them better. That’s something that I like and if I can do it, why not?
Take us through your path to the MLB
I lived in NYC as a kid for about 6 years. I used to play in Macombs Dam Park behind the old Yankee Stadium as a kid. When we played in the afternoon, and they had games, we used to just walk there and see the guys go in. It was a cool experience. I got to meet some of the players when they did some clinics there and I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was fun.
I think I just started to pitch because I had a good arm and, from there, I pitched all my life. Growing up I didn’t like baseball that much. I liked to play it. It was my brother that pushed me like, ‘Let’s go to the field.’ When I moved back to DR (the Dominican Republic), he would drag me to the baseball field because I would just wanna watch cartoons you know? I was a kid.
After I turned like 16, that’s when I was more serious about it. I was like, ‘You know what, I’ve got potential.’ I was always very competitive with my brother. He’s older than me so he’s a little bit stronger. I used to compete with him just to see who was throwing harder. I noticed I got better and I threw harder than him and I was like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s train hard and see where it takes me.’
After I finished high school I took like a year just training hard and seeing what I could do. I didn’t get an offer so I went to college back in the Dominican Republic. The first month, that’s when I got my contract with the Braves and I said, ‘Okay, let’s try it and see how it is.’ I don’t regret nothing. It was a great experience. I learned a lot, especially when I got injured.
Why leave the game rather than try for a contract in the Dominican Republic?
In that moment I was just a little bit disappointed. I don’t know, I guess I didn’t have the motivation at that time. I think I just decided to finish there, hang up the cleats and just move on.
You walked away but the game never left you.
Yeah, it’s fun you know. It’s a game and you get paid to play it. I love it. The experiences that you have, it’s just amazing. Like getting to meet so many people from everywhere. All the people that you get to meet playing come and go. With some of the guys, you play so much that you build up a relationship and then its special. Like, when I finished playing, I went to spring training in Orlando and I just to get to see my old guys. When they call me and say, ‘ Hey, I’m here. Come and visit.’ You just go. One of my friends called me and said, ‘Hey, let’s toss a little bit so I can start getting in shape for the season.’ It’s fun. You know?
Is that you personal radar gun I saw you putting in your backpack?
Yeah. In the Dominican Republic, when you’re moving up, you just see how fast you’re throwing. I’m a guy that likes speed and that’s what motivated me to buy a gun to see how I’m throwing.
Your speed today was averaging 90mph. How are you feeling about your control?
The more you throw the better the control gets. I’ve only been throwing for like a month. I’ve got to see where I am, and what I can accomplish, before the season starts so when the season starts I’m better. I like to get better every time I play.
How do you feel about your mechanics post injury?
It’s pretty similar. It’s just throwing more. When the weather gets warmer, then I know everything’s just going to come together. The cold weather always, at the beginning of all my seasons, keeps me from warming up. After the temperature gets warmer and warmer, I felt like my muscles just relax more and I throw a little bit harder and better.
Have you always been a corners pitcher like I saw today?
My pitching coach when I played with the Braves said, ‘If you’re going to hit with your fastball, do it with control.’ Every pitch with a fastball is a different pitch if you throw it in, outside and then up and low, it’s a different fastball. If you can control that, I think you can be successful just hitting your spots. I saw it in Greg Maddux growing up. He didn’t throw that hard but he hit those spots. His pitching, it was just control. When you can do that, it’s amazing.
The Braves were the first team I worked for and I respected the full-player training they enlisted in the ‘90s. Was it still in place when you were with the team?
Oh yeah. They were on top of us for everything. Language with the Hispanic guys. Training-wise we used to throw only so many bullpens and focus on the things you really knew you had to get done. The pitchers, we threw so many bullpens and trained so much that I think that’s why the Braves are very successful. They have a great workout for their pitchers.
A lot of your personal story really centers around getting injured.
The physical therapist that we had, Troy Jones, he was amazing. He’s like a father. He showed me everything. Got me where I was, and I was like, ‘Wow. If you train hard you can accomplish a lot of things.’ I learned a lot when I was injured. I had a different view of the game after I got injured.
Was it that experience that made you turn your focus to massage therapy?
Yeah. When I got to understand a little how the body works, that motivated me. Since I like to help people in that area I worked with some of the guys, also with the Braves. I went to learn how in spring training. I worked on the players and I liked it. I just felt it’s interesting. When you work on some guy, and on a muscle and see how it is and how the muscle reacts after you work on it, it’s another world but it’s another interesting thing that you can do.
Anything you’ve ever wanted to the world to know?
Every kid that’s working, just follow your dream and you gotta work hard. That’s something that’s very important, work ethic. If you work hard there’s going to be a time that you can be successful. If it’s not playing baseball, going to university, getting a degree, anything. You just gotta put a little bit of effort in there and, at the end of the road, you’re going to see light. That’s something I noticed in everything. Playing baseball, working hard. I saw results.
If you are consistent, just work hard, you’re going to get there, eventually. Even in baseball. There’s going to be a lot of things – injury or people that don’t give you that support or you don’t get the opportunity – but if you continue there’s going to be somebody that’s going to get to look at you and see, ‘Oh, this guy has talent’ so never give up, I say, in anything.
The Braves organization’s philosophy is to train the whole person and employ people who do the same. When Paulino got hurt, they could have let him go and left it at that. Instead he not only found a mentor on their training staff but was authorized by the team to do his massage therapy training hours with the players. Because of the team’s philosophy, Angelo transitioned into his life after baseball rather seamlessly. Being hurt sucked and he was out, but he was trained to move forward, to recognize the future he wanted after baseball, when it presented itself. His experiences also kept the sport he’d grown to love in his heart. Now he’s coaching as well as playing in the Bundesliga. It’s an opportunity not only to pass down his own experiences but to show younger players their personal paths to greatness in whatever their lives turns out to be.