Pie's march toward the bigs continues

Pie's march toward the big leagues continues

MESA, Ariz. -- The West Tenn Diamond Jaxx were playing extra innings, and Felix Pie was coming up to bat. The bubbly center fielder asked his teammates what they needed. Some suggested a base hit but Pie thought big.

"Por la calle," he said. That means home run -- "on the street."

Pie stepped in. The opposing pitcher didn't have a chance. He threw a changeup that floated in the middle of the plate, and Pie pulled it for a long home run.

"I'll never forget that -- I was so happy," Pie said. "When we were running around the bases, [teammate Adam Greenberg] said, 'That's my man -- my man.'"

The Chicago Cubs hope to be able to celebrate such amazing feats as well. Pie is a super-talented outfielder blessed with a great arm, instincts and an infectious smile.

"I know how Chicago worshipped Sammy [Sosa]," said Triple-A Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua, "but they'll embrace this kid. He loves to play."

Pie (pronounced pee-AY) played for the Double-A team this year, and the left-handed hitter would've been introduced to the big leagues in July if he hadn't been trying so hard to help West Tenn win the first-half championship. In mid-June, he hit a ball off the top of the wall in right-center.

"I hit the ball to the fence, and tried to take a triple," Pie said during an interview last week at the Cubs' instructional camp. "When they threw the ball, it was behind my back, and I hit the bag and my right foot went this way."

Pie indicates the distorted angle his ankle took -- and it hurts to watch four months later. He suffered a bone bruise, which prevented him from being called up in early July when the Cubs decided to send Corey Patterson and Jason Dubois to the Minor Leagues. Greenberg and Matt Murton were promoted instead.

"I was real sad," Pie said in English when asked about missing the chance. Then he switched to Spanish, and Class A Peoria manager Julio Garcia translated.

"At first, he was a little sad, but after it passed, he felt better about it and was happy for Greenberg, who is his friend and got a chance to play in the big leagues," Garcia said. "He got calls from Jose Serra to keep his spirits up. He doesn't understand why things happen, but it wasn't his turn yet. He asked God for help and maybe next year will be his turn."

Serra is the scout who found Pie in the Dominican Republic. Pie, who grew up near La Romana, has lived with Serra in the capital city of Santo Domingo the last few years. Now 20, Pie signed with the Cubs when he was 16. In 2002, he batted .321 in the Mesa rookie league, and in 2003, he hit .285 for Class A Lansing and was selected to the All-Star Futures Game. Last year, Pie hit .297 at Class A Daytona. Baseball America ranked him as the second-best prospect in the Cubs' system in 2004, and he was tabbed as the best athlete, best defensive outfielder and having the best arm.

In 59 games this year at West Tenn, Pie hit .304 with 11 homers, 17 doubles, three triples, 25 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. He's been described as a natural. Cubs Minor League hitting instructor Dave Keller said Pie is headed in the right direction.

"There are so many things he does well, and so many ways he can contribute to the team and help the team win," Keller said. "His emotions are something everybody thrives on. You know he loves to play the game, you know he loves to compete. He loves to win. He's been a winner through the Minor Leagues, he's helped players around him get better.

"From a coaching standpoint, he's a great guy to be around. You know his work habits are good and he'll give you everything he has. He's very coachable and he listens. There are some things he needs to work on and he understands that, and it's a matter of getting experience."

Pie did not play any instructional league games after he was hurt, but concentrated on strengthening his right ankle and preparing for the winter leagues. He left Saturday for the Dominican Republic, and will play for Licey. Told that he is projected to be in Chicago soon, Pie downplayed the talk.

"That's fine and that's good, but he's not interested in what people say," Garcia said, translating for Pie. "He wants to prove he can play and wants to work hard to continue on the path he's on."

What does he need to work on? More plate discipline, improving his baserunning and using the bunt more in a game, Pie said.

"It sounds like he has a pretty good plan," Garcia said after hearing Pie's list.

Vince Coleman, who was the Cubs' Minor League baserunning instructor this season, said Pie could have the same impact on the game as Michael Jordan did in basketball.

"That's a nice compliment, but it's not something he pays attention to," Garcia said, interpreting for Pie. "Everything will take care of itself if you put in the hard work. Jose Serra has been an influence and helps him stay straight as far as keeping his feet on the ground. He appreciates the compliment."

"He does everything -- he's a baseball player," Joshua said of Pie. "He plays the way it's supposed to be played."

"I think the good thing that's happening now is that he's very, very hungry," Keller said. "He's very, very hungry to succeed. He wants to be a great player. He doesn't just want to get to the big leagues. He wants to be somebody who, when you open a history book on Major League Baseball, his pictures are in there and there are articles wirtten about him because of his success and things that have happened with him. That's how he's driven. He wants to be a great player. He doesn't just want to get to the big leagues, he wants to be a great player."

Pie has seen what happens when ballplayers from the Dominican Republic make it in the big leagues.

"His main goal, his prayer, is that he can fulfill his dream, and his No. 1 thing is to take care of his family," Garcia said. "He wants to give his parents things they couldn't give him. His parents are very humble. Hopefully, he can give them what they didn't have and teach them at the same time that everything doesn't come free and there's a lot of hard work involved."

Still, it had to be difficult knowing he missed a chance to get to the big leagues.

"It's OK," Pie said. "You won't have to wait long for me. I'm on my way."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.