Some could say that a lot of minor league ball players are ubiquitous. They are seemingly everywhere. Some despite being good ball players never get noticed. However there are some that you just can’t ignore. Kind of like how some birds just aren’t meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright. Irving Falu’s feathers were too bright, and the Kansas City Royals finally noticed.
Irving Falu, the 29 year old switch-hitting infielder is one of the top hitting infielders in the pacific coast league. Falu originally from Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, was first drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2001, but did not sign with them. Instead he was drafted two years later by the Kansas City Royals in the 21st round of the 2003 draft. Falu is known as an organizational guy. He has all of the tools of a great player, but had been languishing down in the minors for many years. Falu a switch-hitting infielder, can play shortstop, second base, third base, plus all three outfield positions, although Falu has played more games at shortstop, and third. He began with the Royal’s Arizona fall league team, and by 2009 he was promoted to the triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers.
He started off somewhat slow at first. In his first full minor league season in 2005 for the Burlington Bees, he hit .253 with a .343 OBP, 34 stolen bases, and 72 runs scored in 119 games. Falu spent the next season in 2006 playing for the High Desert Mavericks. That year, Falu played in 126 games. He hit .299 that season with a .351 OBP. He drew 40 walks, and only whiffed 46 times. He hit three home runs, drove in 49 runs, collected 159 hits, and scored 87 runs. It was a very solid season for the young table setter. That got him promoted up to the double-A ball Wichita Rangers. Falu initially struggled in his first year at that level. His average dropped to .242 that season, and in 135 games, he only had 115 hits, and his OBP dropped down to .294. After stealing 34 and 31 bases the previous two seasons respectively, his steals dropped down to 15.
Falu would rebound in 2008. He remained in the Texas League where he hit .301, with a .367 OBP. He smacked five home runs, had 42 RBI, in 101 games. Finally in 2009, Falu was promoted to the triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Falu hit .269 in his first season with Omaha in 122 games. Falu really came into his own over the last couple of seasons. In 2010 for the Storm Chasers, Falu batted .301 with a .358 OBP, 21 stolen bases in 111 games.
Falu is known as a table setter. He’s a speedy contact hitter that bats at the top of the lineup, and gets on base for the big boys. It’s something that Falu has become very adept at. Falu very rarely strikes out. As a matter of fact, during his minor league career, Falu has walked more than he has whiffed. (382 walks, 364 whiffs). Falu has never whiffed more than 47 times in any minor league season. Defensively Falu ranks at a +7 runs above average, and ranks at least average at shortstop. Falu has a .280 career batting average, and a .345 OBP. He has stolen 191 bases, and collected 1,098 hits in over 1,000 games accross eight minor league seasons. Falu has become a fan favorite with the Storm Chaser fans. The fans would chant Faluuuuuuuuuu when he would come up to the plate.But when would Falu get the call that he was going to the majors? The Irving Falu story doesn’t end there though. There is so much more to the switch-hitting infielder than meets the eye. Many young players have languished in the minors over the years, but when I saw this story from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports I knew that Falu was no ordinary minor league ball player. You see, James Overkamp a 12 year old little leaguer had just found out his mom had been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Imagine how frightening that is for a 12 year old boy. So his father had an idea. While his mother was recovering from chemotherapy treatments, his father would take young James to meet his favorite ball player, in order to help lift his spirits. James’ favorite player is Irving Falu. Young James liked Falu’s hustle and versatility.
Mr. Overkamp brought his son to meet Falu in person. According to Passan, the Storm Chasers allowed the starting position players to run out to their positions with a local fan. James was allowed to walk out with Irving Falu. While the two were walking they began to talk. James told Falu about his Mom, and the two struck up a friendship. Hearing about James’ mom hit home for Falu, since his mother had been such a vital force in his Baseball career, and had sent him from Puerto Rico to play Baseball in the US. Falu remembered how his mom took him to practices, and supported him along the way.Throughout the 2011 season, the friendship between Falu and James grew. James would sit as close to Falu as he could during every game. If Falu played the outfield, James would sit in the bleachers, and the two would talk between innings. Falu would ask him how he was doing in school, and how his little league team was playing. He would ask about his mom. As the season progressed, James was eventually invited to stand next to Falu while the national anthem was sung at a Storm Chaser game. I’m happy to report that after six months of chemotherapy, James’ mom has fully recovered.Falu’s 2012 season with the Omaha Storm Chasers was one of his best. In 88 games he was batting .329 with a .375 OBP. He hit seven home runs, drove in 50 runs, and stole 21 bases, and a very solid .838 OPS. Finally Falu got the call. He was being called up to the major leagues. Apparently Yuniesky Betancourt had gone on the DL, and on May 6, of 2012, Falu made his MLB debut with the Kansas City Royals. And so Falu called his Mom, and got her tickets, and sent her on a plane to see his MLB debut at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. There was no way he was going to let her miss this.
On May 6, Falu tripled in his first at-bat off of Yankee’s pitcher Phil Hughes, with his mom watching from the stands. James watched the game on television and cheered for his friend. Falu had made it to the big leagues. Falu played in 24 games for the Royals this season. He hit .341 in 85 at-bats. He collected 29 hits, and scored 14 runs. Falu had finally made it after spending eight years in the minor leagues. Falu and young James supported each other during that long summer last year. Even though Falu may not make the Royal’s starting roster next spring, James is still very proud of his friend. He was happy that he saw his friend’s dream come true.
“He tries to make me feel good,” Falu said. “And if he can go home and talk about my friend Irving, maybe he can forget for a minute his mom is sick. That’s why I do it. I’m not special.”
That’s what Passan had quoted Falu saying about his friend James. But you see, that is where Falu is wrong. He is special, and there is a young friend of his who can tell you why. I can see why. I just hope that the Kansas City Royals eventually see it too.
For more on the Kansas City Royals, check out Kings of Kauffman!