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Aviators speedster Jorge Mateo sprints toward majors

Updated May 12, 2019 - 6:17 pm

Full disclosure: I offered the challenge knowing it would never be executed, because if Jorge Mateo somehow pulled a hamstring or twisted an ankle or injured his very valuable frame in any manner, let’s just say Aviators president Don Logan would have me hanging alongside all that sponsorship signage atop the outfield wall at Las Vegas Ballpark.

After which, manager Fran Riordan would use me as target practice with a fungo.

“I’ve never seen you run, but it would be fun to watch,” Riordan said. “Theoretically, of course. I’d never allow it.”

Mateo is fast. Blazing. A shortstop who leads the Pacific Coast League in hits (54) and triples (nine), the latter just four off equaling the team record of Joe Thurston in 2002 — and we haven’t yet reached mid-May.

Mateo is also second in steals (11) and runs (33).

The only blazing I do is to Starbucks when the S’mores Frappuccino returns.

But could Mateo, if beginning at home plate and racing an avid spin-cycling/treadmill plodding sports columnist who would start at second base, reach home safely before his journalist foe?

“That would hard,” Mateo said.

What if he began at first base?

“Maybe … probably … pretty sure.”

He is being kind. The only way I beat this guy if he starts at first is by pulling a Cosmo Kramer running into Monica Seles and accidentally knocking him over as he passes me between third and home.

Baseball history is not without its speed demons, notably the swift careers of names like Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman and Dave Collins and, most recently, Byron Buxton and Billy Hamilton.

Heck, even football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders stole 186 bases and once led the majors in triples over nine part-time seasons.

“Speed plays,” Riordan said. “It never takes a day off. It never slumps. It is still a valued commodity at the major league level … (Mateo) is electric, the fastest player I’ve had.”

It’s not an original story. Mateo was born in Santo Domingo Oeste of the Dominic Republic and learned at a young age that baseball was the avenue by which to create a better life for him and his family and, now, his 1-year-old son.

It became a possibility when he signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2012, and reality seems a lot closer now, Mateo among those prospects sent to the A’s in the Sonny Gray deal of 2017.

Speed is one thing. Knowledge is another. It might ultimately allow the 23-year-old Mateo to be promoted from Triple-A to the majors, but only understanding how to use it will keep him there.

He has worked tirelessly to be more than just the fastest guy at the yard each day — Mateo had almost as many triples (16) as doubles (17) last year in Nashville — and his hitting numbers early this season certainly suggest a continuous climb in trajectory.

He is athletic enough to play anything up the middle — second, short, center — at this or any level, although he envisions himself a shortstop once receiving the ultimate of calls.

Speed is one thing. Versatility is another.

“You just have to keep working, keep adapting to where you are at,” Mateo said via translator. “I’m very grateful for the chance, knowing many others in the (Dominican Republic) never got it. Keep playing hard, doing my job every day, becoming better at everything.”

He had Sunday off, when the Aviators fell to Tacoma 10-6 before an announced Mother’s Day sellout of 9,034, but should return to the lineup Monday night against the Rainiers.

If you haven’t watched Mateo play in person, it’s beyond worth it. Just don’t blink when he’s on the bases.

How fast is he?

As a teenager, Mateo said he was timed running the 100 meters on a track.

He says the clock read 9.1 seconds.

“I think that part got lost in translation,” Riordan said.

Um, yes. Usain Bolt holds the world record at 9.58 seconds, which means Mateo’s calculation is a bit off or the Dominican Republic Olympic Committee would have a lot more than a total of seven medals in its history.

That’s not to say Mateo isn’t fast. Blazing.

Or at least speedy enough to beat an avid spin-cycling/treadmill plodding sports columnist.

But only if he began the race at first.

If he starts at home, I take the kid.

Maybe … possibly … probably not.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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