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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis major leaguer has jersey number retired

Published: October 16, 2009
Section: Sports

As professional baseball player Nelson Figueroa ’98 addressed the Brandeis baseball family from a podium in the Napoli Room in the Gosman Athletic Center Saturday, it was the kind of moment every baseball player in that room could only dream of.

Figueroa, standing beside his retired number “2” jersey, explained to a crowd of current players, alumni, and parents how much Brandeis meant to him as a student, and how much it still means to him today.

“I’m just thrilled today. These aren’t things that you think about as a kid. It just goes beyond words of how appreciative I am,” Figueroa said.

“For someone who is going to see that jersey number being retired and ask why and get the story, it kind of feels like you’ll forever live on at Brandeis and hopefully inspire some future dreamers,” he added.

Figueroa, originally drafted by the New York Mets in 1995, was the first Brandeis graduate to ever play in the Major Leagues when he pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000.

Figueroa recently returned to the Mets organization last year, and continues to be grateful for the success he has had.

At a small Division III school like Brandeis, it is quite rare for an athlete to play at the professional level. Figueroa hopes that his success will inspire others.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Joe Galli ’13, a player on the baseball team. “He was successful and he accomplished his dreams.”

Head coach Pete Varney, who taught Figueroa many important lessons, ranging from how to talk to the media to how to stay motivated, expressed pride at his former player’s accomplishments.

“We’re trying to cultivate the attitude of the Brandeis family,” Varney said of the jersey retirement. “We’re all in this together. Hopefully if you’ve been a part of this, you’ll be a part of it for a long time.”

That sense of family began for Figueroa as an undergraduate. “All of a sudden I was away from my family so Brandeis became my family,” Figueroa said. Indeed, he was mentored by coaches and professors alike.

After taking classes with Professor Jacob Cohen (AMST), Figueroa chose to major in American Studies and has found it helpful from because he constantly deals with people, he explained.

Cohen stressed the importance of academics to Figueroa. Figueroa recalls that Cohen once told him that a “coach’s baseball card is worth 55 cents, and the degree up on the wall is worth a lot more.”

“The people that know Brandeis know the caliber of academics that lie within these walls,” Figueroa said.

But more than academics, Figueroa learned about determination and passion at Brandeis. “Hustle was free, coach taught, and desire was something that couldn’t be bought,” Figueroa said.