By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
One of baseball’s best players of the 1970s was a young center fielder for the Houston Astros named Cesar Cedeno.
Making his major league debut at the age of 19 in 1970, Cedeno at that ripe age led the National League in doubles and was an All-Star in ‘72, ‘73, ‘74 and ‘76. Each season from 1972-74 he hit more than 20 home runs and stole more than 50 bases, only the second player at the time to ever accomplish that feat, the other being Lou Brock.
In the field he covered the spacious turf in the Astrodome and won five consecutive Gold Gloves.
His career spanned 17 years with the Astros, Reds, Cardinals and Dodgers and for the past 22 years he has been a coach, helping develop young players to become what he once was a major league ball player.
Cedeno is in his second season as hitting coach for the Greeneville Astros. The Astros are in Bluefield to open the Appalachian League season and Cedeno had some memories of the league from when he played in Covington 44 years ago.
“I have memories of here because I believe I hit like .374 in this league,” Cedeno recalled. “I guess I was a gifted hitter because at just about every level I did well.”
Cedeno, a native of the Dominican Republic, singed with the Astros at age 17 and at “19 years and two months exactly,” he was a regular player at the major league level.
“I always had the drive to better myself and wanted to be the best at my position. A lot of times you have to push the young fellows. You want them to get better and you’ve got to push them. But there’s a drive that’s got to come from inside of you to want to be the best and do what it takes to become the best or one of the best,” Cedeno said. “For you to play at the major league level you have to work harder than anybody else.”
The son of a nail factory worker, Cedeno said from a young age he played baseball and dreamed of being a professional.
“Since I was 7 or 8 years old I was playing (baseball) and that’s all I wanted to do. I used to brag and tell my dad, ‘I’m not going to work in the nail factory, I’m going to play baseball and I am going to be a major leaguer,” Cedeno said.
Baseball is the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic and today, as it was 44 years ago with Cedeno, it is a way to improve one’s lot in life.
“We come here and seek a better opportunity,” Cedeno said. “The fact that we get that chance from different organizations here is just great. Guys need to take advantage of that as I did and just continue to improve and prove to themselves and to the organization for which they play and just move on, try to move up the ladder and hopefully become a major leaguer. Maybe not as quickly as I did, but hopefully play in the major leagues.
In his major league career Cedeno had a .285 career batting average, 199 home runs, 976 RBIs, 550 stolen bases and 2,087 hits. Playing most of his games on one of the largest playing fields in baseball, the Astrodome, he said that could have affected his numbers, but in other ways it may have made him the player he was.
“I could have been perhaps better, but the ball park at the time I played used to be bigger. It was 345 (feet) down the lines, 395 in the alleys in the Astrodome and then 410 straight-away center field. That could be one of the reasons I hit so many doubles early in my career,” Cedeno said. “Also the fact that I worked on hitting down on the ball, because most of the fields used to be Astroturf and in order for me to be able to use my speed, I didn’t try to lift the ball.
“I had great success when I played in other ball parks like Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York. It seemed like every time I went out there I was able to hit the ball out of the park. Those were ball parks that weren’t covered, didn’t have the roof.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m happy with the way my career went and what I accomplished and happy to be here instructing and helping some of these guys become major leaguers in the future.”
Over the nearly half century Cedeno has been in professional baseball he has seen changes in the game, most notably the pitching of complete games.
“You used to have at least 10 guys in the league who used to pitch 20 complete games. If somebody throws a complete game in this particular era, it’s rare,” Cedeno said.
“Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, just a ton of guys used to have complete games and the game wasn’t about home runs as it is now. We used the speed, bunting, moving the guys over. That was the way the game was played in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Now it’s all about power, power hitting, power pitching and that’s one of the reasons I feel that it has changed a lot — perhaps for the best for the younger generations, but I was just glad to be part of being a pioneer and open the door for some of the guys who are playing in this particular era.”
Cedeno faced many great pitchers throughout his career including Hall of Famers Gibson, Marichal, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver. But he said there was one pitcher he could just not muster any success was a little left-hander for the Reds.
“I had one guy who got me out very often and his name was Fred Norman,” Cedeno said.
“Freddie pitched with Cincinnati and he would be the one that I remember the most as far s taking the bat out of my hand most of the time.”
Cedeno and the Astros conclude their three-game series against the Blue Jays tonight at Bowen Field. First pitch is set for 7:05.
— Contact Bob Redd at