SOUTH BEND — A man who sticks with professional baseball for 13 years before getting a brief stint in the big leagues at age 31 definitely appreciates the game.
All the bus rides and the Caribbean Series, Puerto Rico Winter League and World Baseball Classic games, plus his 54 games with the 2010 New York Mets follow Feliciano into the dugout and into conversations with his young players.
So, too, does the memory of following his father — also named Jesus — during his 16 years as a pitcher on the Puerto Rico national baseball team.
“I’m very proud of him,” Feliciano said of the man who carried the flag for Puerto Rico in the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. “I think that’s why I’m where I’m at.”
At South Bend, the 35-year-old Feliciano, “Junito” or “Junior” at home, is getting his young players to understand concepts such as “aggressive selectiveness” and more.
And the native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, might even be getting more out of it than the athletes.
“This is just my second year (as a coach),” Feliciano said before a recent game at South Bend’s Four Winds Field. “I’m liking it even more than I thought I would. I’m having a wonderful time. I feel pretty blessed working with these guys.”
Feliciano coached many of the current South Bend players in 2014 at Boise of the Class-A Short Season Northwest League. There, he got to know their baseball talents and their personalities and backgrounds.
“I get to know the guys and not just on the field,” Feliciano said. “We want to make them feel like they can count on us.”
Putting the players at ease helps them to adjust to life as a professional ballplayer.
For the Latin players on the team, Feliciano lends a little cultural comfort.
“I know the (Chicago Cubs) do a pretty good job with the English classes. The players feel a lot more comfortable when they can come to me and talk in Spanish, but we make sure we talk to them in English, too, so they can start learning.”
All Cubs minor league hitters are taught about being selectively aggressive. With South Bend’s big offensive numbers so far this season, the players seem to be getting the message.
“We want them to be aggressive at the plate, especially when they get their pitch.” Feliciano said. “At the same time, you have to be selective. It doesn’t mean you have to be over-aggressive.
“The game will dictate what you do in every single at-bat.”
In their own way, Feliciano, manager Jimmy Gonzalez, assistant coach Osmin Melendez and pitching coach Brian Lawrence are helping players develop pre-game routines.
Everyone is different.
“We have to identify what’s best for every guy,” Feliciano said.