By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Francisco Gracesqui is living in the moment. He can’t dwell on the past, and he won’t predict the future.
As far as his present as a baseball player is concerned, it basically comes down to deciding his next pitch for the Bluefield Blue Jays.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the left-handed relief pitcher is in his first year with Bluefield, where he has produced a 3-0 win-loss record, over 14 innings pitched in 13 games.
There are ups and downs for the vast majority of minor-league pitchers, and Gracesqui (pronounced “grah-SES-kee”) is no exception.
“It’s hard,” he said. “One day, you come in and you struggle. You can’t come back with the mentality, or the next day you might even have another day like that. You have to just forget about what happened, and you do your job that day, pitch by pitch.”
He recorded one of the Appalachian League’s best earned-run averages prior to last Friday, when he allowed three earned runs in 1 1/3 innings at Bowen Field — but earned the pitching win in a 13-8 Mercer Cup Series win against Princeton.
He said, “Baseball’s hard. Baseball has a way of humbling you. But you just have to work hard and just stay positive.”
Even with Friday’s outing added in, he still has an ERA of 3.21. This season, he has struck out nine batters, walked seven and allowed 15 hits but only six runs, five of them earned.
Last season, his first as a professional, he posted a 2.88 ERA over 34 1/3 relief innings, striking out 46 batters for Toronto’s Gulf Coast League club.
He said about the difference between the GCL and the Appy League, “If you make some mistakes, you’ll pay for it here. You’ll pay for it more than you do down there.”
Gracesqui was raised in the Bronx’ Latino community, in which he said, “I’ve always had the support.”
Though there is a historic major-league presence in that borough of New York City, he said flatly, “I’m not a Yankee fan.”
He was pitching for Sullivan County Community College, a unit of the State University of New York, in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y., in 2011 when he landed a tryout with the Toronto Blue Jays.
He signed as a free agent almost exactly two years ago, on Aug. 24, 2011, for a reported $40,000 signing bonus.
The college’s website quoted its baseball coach, Ryan Snair, as stating, “[Gracesqui] has been a model citizen for us. This couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid.”
After a summer on the Gulf Coast, he was promoted to Bluefield. He said, “The scenery here is beautiful. In the city, you don’t see all these mountains and stuff.”
He has helped the Blue Jays to their current first-place standing in the Appalachian League East. He said the team’s success has a simple explanation.
“We just play hard and hustle,” he said. “Like Dennis (Holmberg, Bluefield manager) says, ‘Sense of urgency.’ ”
Gracesqui said the coaches in the Toronto organization have played “a very important role” in his pitching development.
“They just tell me what I can do to make it better. I take any little thing, and I take it into the game. Even like throwing strikes, or what pitchers are throwing on what counts, stuff like that. It helps a lot.”
The Bluefield system of playing two starters per game in a “piggyback” role “helps them develop,” Gracesqui said. He added, “Everybody gets their innings. You can only get better when you’re pitching games.”
His brother Frank Gracesqui was drafted by Toronto in the 21st round of the 1998 major league draft, but wound up making it to the major leagues with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins for seven games as a relief pitcher in 2004.
He spent the next two years in Class AAA ball in the Marlins and Orioles organizations and ended his playing career in 2007 in Japan.
Francisco Gracesqui said his older brother told him to have “a short memory” as a pro pitcher. Beyond that advice, he said, “Not much. Just pitch.”
He said he has no timetable for advancing through the minor leagues. For the moment, he said, his future consists of “just day by day, pitch by pitch.”
— Contact Tom Bone at