Little Red Machine

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By JOE McFARLAND
Alberta Dugout Stories

Nothing really scared Alejo Lopez when he arrived in Canada in 2012.

Not the new surroundings. Not learning a new language. Not the different expectations on the baseball field.

Well, nothing except lacing up his skates for a trip around the outdoor rink.

“It was scary, man,” Lopez laughed during an interview with Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “They were going so fast and I could barely move.”

But he gave the ODR (outdoor rink) a shot and before long, he was able to get around. It was also a way for him to bond with his Dawgs Academy teammates, even if they were more excited about hitting the ice than he was.

His happy place was always the baseball field and after tearing up minor league pitching over the last few years, the Dawgs grad got his first taste of Major League Baseball (MLB) in 2021. In 14 games with the Cincinnati Reds, Lopez hit .261 thanks to six hits in 23 at-bats.

A decade after first gracing the fields of Alberta, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound infielder is knocking on the door of something he’s always dreamed about.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Growing up in Mexico City, Lopez played whatever sport he could including baseball, soccer and golf.

His father and grandfather preferred the diamonds, so pushed the young athlete in that direction, even if he didn’t know what he wanted to do.

Lopez recalls first hearing about “Okotoks” and the “Dawgs” when they held a clinic in his hometown. “They came with a bunch of coaches and I actually didn’t want to go,” he said. “I think it was a Monday through Friday thing and I didn’t want to go because I wanted to go play soccer.”

After skipping the first two days of the camp, Lopez’s dad convinced him he should go, even if it was to take part in a few drills and maybe learn some things.

Before long, the coaches were approaching his parents, wanting to see if their son would be willing to come to Canada to play baseball.

Realizing that Lopez was better than many of his peers, he family started talking about the possibilities of heading to Okotoks, Florida or Arizona to better his skills.

“My mom didn’t want me to go to the U.S.,” Lopez admitted. “In Canada, they had host families and the Dawgs were doing that. My mom loved that idea, as she didn’t want me living with a roommate and she didn’t trust me to do that.”

GREAT WHITE NORTH

Lopez excitedly packed his bags and boarded a plane destined for Canada.

The first couple of weeks flew by as he got to know his new surroundings and teammates. But after a while, the usual teenage feelings started to filter in.

“Things started hitting me,” Lopez said. “My English wasn’t great, I was missing my friends, I was missing family and my mom and it started getting hard.”

He remembers calling his parents to tell them that he didn’t know if he could stay in Okotoks for much longer.

“They were like, ‘Okay, if you can’t do it, come home,’” he said. “I thought they would try to convince me to stay, so that for me was like, ‘No, I can’t go home, I gotta stay.’”

Lopez used that call as motivation to push forward and keep chasing his baseball dreams.

THE CANADIAN WAY

On the field was where Lopez would shine. However, he also realized that things were a little different in his new home.

“I remember, at first, I liked being flashy,” he smiled. “Canadians are more fundamental. ‘We do this, we go about our business this way,’ and I just wanted to be flashy.”

Being different also allowed him to start conversations with teammates, building a bond with them over the different techniques and skillsets.

Former Dawgs teammate and fellow Cincinnati Reds prospect Matt Lloyd remembers seeing Lopez for the first time and the talent he had.

“He always had an aura of confidence and swagger that everyone could see,” Lloyd said via text message. “He would always talk about how he was going to the major leagues.”

The confidence started to shine through as Lopez grasped the fundamentals, as he earned a spot at shortstop while the team racked up wins.

THE OTHER SIDE

One facet of the game that Lopez refined in Okotoks and is forever grateful for is being a switch-hitter.

He was always able to hit from both sides of the plate, but he always felt more comfortable hitting right-handed, so that’s where he wanted to stay.

That is, until he met Dawgs coach Brett Thomas.

“He threatened me with being benched if I tried to hit righty versus righty,” Lopez laughed. “Now, it’s like, I’m so thankful for that because I actually think I’m a better hitter from the left side.”

He also learned a lot about work ethic, something that rubbed off on his teammates.

Lopez running the bases with the Okotoks Dawgs.

Not only did he see it during their academy time together, Lloyd and Lopez were teammates for a short time with the Western Major Baseball League (now Western Canadian Baseball League) Okotoks Dawgs in 2014. In six games, Lopez hit .304 with seven hits in 23 at-bats, including two walks and a stolen base.

“He was always putting in extra work and helping out the guys around him so they could become better,” Lloyd said. “Always a joy to be around, he makes putting in work together fun as well as productive.”

ACHIEVING GREATNESS

Looking back on his time in Alberta, Lopez is grateful for the opportunities presented to him and the relationships he was able to create.

He also realizes how it changed him as a human being.

“I learned to do things by myself, as everything was on me and it was such a huge responsibility,” Lopez said. “That was the first stage for me of actually becoming a man.”

He realizes he learned about time management and figuring out when it was time to have fun and time to go to work. “Honestly, it was such a fun time for me being up there,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave at first.”

In 2015, he was selected in the 27th round of the MLB Draft by the Reds, something he actually calls a “huge disappointment” as he was projected to go much higher after another season of high school baseball in the US.

Once again, he was motivated to keep getting better to prove to that it shouldn’t have taken so long to hear his name be called.

The talent and drive have been evident to Lloyd from the beginning.

“It’s easy to tell that Alejo not only loves the game of baseball, but he loves the process of becoming a better baseball player every day,” he said.

It’s a mindset that Lopez hopes to impart on young baseball players through his actions and the words he offers on social media.

“You have to put in the work,” he said. “As long as you put in the work, as long as you pay attention to detail, as long as you really dive into the wisdom of whatever you’re trying to do and work at it every single day, you can achieve great things.”

Lopez is living those words today, with his eyes firmly set on becoming an everyday MLB shortstop.

(Story republished with the permission of Alberta Dugout Stories)