Nelson Figueroa remembers meeting his childhood idols. Tommy Hunter remembers pitching an imaginary World Series game in his backyard. Those things they never forgot.
Entering his second year with the Houston Astros, the 36-year-old Figueroa grew up in Brooklyn as a fan of the New York Mets.
I had a chance to meet (former Mets) Ron Darling and Gary Carter at an autograph signing at a Macys, Figueroa quickly recalled. You get to see the people you watch on TV, and whether it was the last guy on the team or the major league superstar, it was a chance to meet a guy who plays for your hometown team.
The feeling didnt go away. It was even the same as an adult when Figueroa suited up for the Mets, which meant meeting his former idols that now worked alongside him for the organization. That was the best part about it all, he said. ... It doesnt matter how much money you make, youre always a little kid in this game.
Hunter and the Texas Rangers are coming off their first World Series appearance.
Its one of those dream-come-trues: youre a little guy out in the backyard, its 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, youre in the World Series, Game 7. We didnt go that far, but its kind of like being a little kid out there, Hunter said of the World Series. The thing about it is dreams do come true, youve just got to work for them. Thats kind of the message to little kids these days and Im one of those little kids that made it.
Hunter was a part of the Texas Rangers Winter Caravan that stopped to sign autographs at Fort Hoods Abrams Physical Fitness Center on Tuesday. Rookie journeyman pitcher Barret Loux, radio personality Eric Nadel, bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and bench coach Jackie Moore were also on hand.
Meanwhile, Figueroa, joined by second-year manager Brad Mills, catcher Humberto Quintero and Astros Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton, made a Houston Astros Winter Caravan stop Tuesday morning at Shoemaker and Tuesday afternoon at Belton. The Astros quartet encouraged the students to go for their dreams and enjoy sports while you can.
The group also stopped at Mary Hardin-Baylor and Temple College.
To have an opportunity to do this and spark some dreams, said Figueroa, a former 30th-round draft pick. Not everybody is going to want to be a pro baseball player, but if you want to be an athlete, you want to go on to college. I at least try and tell kids to use their athletic ability as a vehicle for their education.