Dave Concepcion Reds SS Interview

By Jesse Sanchez 2006 -- Imagine Ozzie Guillen wearing uniform No. 58 or Omar Vizquel in No. 17. What if Carlos Guillen wore No. 8 on his back or Edgardo Alfonzo sported No. 11 instead of the No. 13, the most widely used number for baseball players from Venezuela.

Call it fate or destiny. It all came down to a matter of inches -- literally.

"The 58 jersey was too big, and I wanted 8, 11, 17 and a bunch of others, but they were all gone," former Reds great Dave Concepcion said during breakfast at his home on Thursday. "I thought about my mom and how she was born in 1913. I am glad because that No. 13 has brought me good luck. Nineteen was gone, too."

Just like that, the No. 13, the unluckiest of numbers, was eventually made famous by Concepcion, the luckiest of men in his town of Maracay. The baseball great with the legendary Major League career is treated like royalty, and he has the name to prove it. People in Maracay call him "Rey David" -- King David. His close friends call him "Mague."

In addition to his 19 years in the Major Leagues, Concepcion also played more than 20 years in Maracay for Tigres de Aragua. His no. 13 jersey is retired and a monument in his honor hangs in center field of Estadio Jose Perez Colmenares.

"These are my people, and Maracay has treated me right," Concepcion said. "The people love me. They protect me, and I love them like they love me. This is my home."

Home is a popular place these days. Concepcion calls this week's Caribbean Series in Maracay and Valencia "a great event," but he would be less than honest if he didn't say that he wishes his beloved Tigres, not Caracas, represented the country. He was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame recently, and he says that he is going to make it to a few Caribbean Series games this week.

That is, if he has the time. He has many other things going on.

Concepcion lives in the affluent neighborhood of Urbanizacion el Castano, a gated community at the base of the mountains near Henry Pitier National Park. Inside, he has only a few reminders of his days as a ballplayer -- a photo in the dining area and another near the back door -- an if you didn't know who he was, it would be hard to tell that one of the most beloved baseball players in the country lived there. He keeps all of his baseball awards in a special room. But it's locked, and only his wife has the key. She is in Miami visiting her son David Eduardo, a 24-year-old studying English. She's likely also heading to Boston to visit her 19-year-old daughter Kaneska, who is also studying English.

David Alejandro, 30, lives at home. The younger children were born in the United States and raised in Venezuela. David Alejandro spent most of his life in both countries because his father was still playing in the Major Leagues during his youth, so he has no problem speaking perfect English.

The son is funny and bold, with an underlying sense of humility -- just like his father.

Concepcion's five-bedroom home is roomy, but not palatial. It's snuggled in between large palm trees and a large garden in the backyard. Just beyond the basketball goal near the second driveway in the back of the home is a stream. It's not a great fishing hole, but it's great to look at.

The former All-Star spends a lot of time in the backyard on the patio, taking in the breeze and tropical weather, when he is not on the move or out fishing with friends.

Concepcion was actually born in Ocumare De La Costa, just over the mountains. Near the front door, he has an oil painting of the house he grew up in. It's a reminder of where he came from, but also of how far he has come.

"Everybody plays baseball here, and they know baseball can give you a better life," he said. "Maybe they see me as an example of what you can do. I hope so."

Directly across the street from the Concepcion manor is a similar home, but one with a clear reminder that Venezuela is not the safest place in the world. The neighbor's home has a huge fence and electrical wire everywhere to keep intruders out and the family in. It's more fortress than homestead.

Most homes in this part of town are highly protected, including the homes of Florida's Miguel Cabrera and Detroit's Carlos Guillen, who live only a few miles away.

Make no mistake, Concepcion is no fool. He has extra locks on his door, and his backyard is guarded with a large gate. He has three dogs, including a rotweiler. In October 2002, intruders broke into his farm in nearby Carmen De Cura while he was home, tied him up and robbed him.

Concepcion's biggest complaint that day was that he missed part of a World Series game. He still goes out to the farm at least once a week to milk his cows. He also has a trucking business.

Fear or crime will not keep him from enjoying his life.

"Poverty is a big factor here and a big reason for crime," Concepcion said. "People are out of work, and there is corruption that we are fighting against. This is a beautiful country, and a lot of people have a good head on their shoulders. There are others who don't have an education, and it drives up crime. If you don't have any school, what can you do, rob and kill? That's not what you should be doing, but they do it."

Concepcion's answer is education. Educate the kids, and the crime will go down. Play baseball. Do something productive. The life of crime is a dead end road.

Concepcion chose baseball, and it worked out pretty well. He finished his 19-year career in Cincinnati with five Gold Glove Awards, a .267 batting average, 101 home runs, 950 RBIs and 321 stolen bases. He scored 993 runs, appeared in nine All-Star Games and won two World Series rings as part of the Big Red Machine.

"Thinking about my career, I'm very happy with it," he said. "I can't complain. The recognition is great here in Venezuela."

But what about in the United States? The former infielder finished with his name on a total of 55 (10.7 percent) of the 516 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, short of the 75 percent needed to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

"I think sometimes I need more publicity, but it should not be like that," he said. "If your numbers are there, what can I do, go back and be a coach? I have a business here. Why should I go and promote myself. I played hard and I had a good career. That should be enough."

Concepcion is not the only one who believes the numbers are enough.

"Tony [Perez] finally made it, and of course Davey wants to be in Cooperstown," former Reds teammate Mario Soto said. "I think he deserves it, when you look at his career. Maybe he'll get a chance later on [through the Veterans Committee]."

Concepcion's name will have three more years on the ballot before the Veterans Committee can vote on his destiny. He has his fingers crossed. Well, they are when he's not out using them on the farm or in the office or fishing or shaking hands.

"Players know, and they recognize what a good player is always," Concepcion said. "They don't forget. When you are out of the game, it's like getting out of the military. When you are in, they care about you. When you are out, nobody cares. It's part of life, I understand that. I accept that."

In the meantime, Concepcion is content following the Winter Leagues and the Caribbean Series. He's still a big baseball fan, and he's proud that so many players from Venezuela still wear the No. 13 in his honor.

Concepcion dreams that one day most of the Latino players in the Major Leagues will be from Venezuela.

"When I put the uniform on, I wanted to win, and I think people liked the way I played the game," he said. "I never gave up, and people loved that. A lot of kids saw me play, and maybe they think they want to play the game the way David did. That is special for me."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com.