Dan Otero has quietly had a successful big-league career. In 333 relief appearances covering 374 innings, the 33-year-old right-hander has a 3.27 ERA and a 3.39 FIP pitching for three teams over seven seasons. On the off chance that win-lost records are your cup of tea, Otero is 10-2 (with a 3.09 ERA) since joining the Cleveland Indians in 2016. He’s 22-8 overall.
Otero knows every one those numbers, but not for narcissistic reasons. An avowed stat geek, the Duke University graduate knows a plethora of numbers. He’s been perusing box scores and leader boards ever since he was knee high to a grasshopper. And he knows the stories behind them, as well. Thanks in large part to his father and grandfather, he’s well-versed in the exploits of bygone legends like Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, and Minnie Minoso. Moreover, he has a deep appreciation for both those who came before him, and his contemporaries. Otero isn’t just a big-league pitcher. He’s a devoted fan of the game of baseball.
Dan Otero: “Growing up, I watched baseball all the time. My dad is a huge fan, so it was always on at the house. I remember waking up in the morning before school and opening the newspaper, which is where all the box scores and stats were back then. I would memorize the standings and the stats every day. I collected cards, organizing them alphabetically in binders. Even my sister got into it. It was kind a family affair. We loved sports, and we loved following baseball.
“I grew up in Miami. My dad came over from Cuba in 1960, when he was 10 years old. He followed my grandfather’s lead in following the Yankees. His older brother was a rebel; he was a Dodgers fan. I wasn’t a rebel. I followed my dad, who even though he kept up with the Yankees was a hometown guy. Being in Miami, he was a Dolphins fan, a Heat fan, a Marlins fan, a Hurricanes football fan. We were embedded in the Miami sports fanbase.
“I started following baseball before the Marlins came into existence in 1993. I remember being six or seven years old and loving the Atlanta Braves. They were on TBS and were broadcast nationally, and I became a huge fan of Greg Maddux and Jeff Blauser. Those were the two guys I modeled myself after in Little League. I’d be Blauser at short and Maddux on the mound.
“Once the Marlins came into existence, I became a Marlins fan. You know, de facto home town, and all that. But I was actually kind of torn in 1997 when they played the Braves in the NLCS. I didn’t know who to root for. I just knew that I’d be happy watching either one in the World Series.
“My dad was a big stats guy. Any time we were watching a game it was, ‘Do you know who the last guy was do this?’ He would always bring up old players. That’s how I became versed in things like the 1927 Yankees ‘Murder’s Row.’ He would talk about them, or about how Sandy Koufax was the greatest pitcher of all time. I’d learn all those names from him, and from there I became this huge baseball-history buff.
“My grandfather would tell me stories about the Orioles and the Yankees going down to Cuba for spring training. I’d hear about Hoyt Wilhelm, who’d rented the house right next to theirs. Minnie Minoso is from Cuba. He’s the only player to play in five decades, which is something we’ll never see again. Hopefully he gets into the Hall of Fame someday via the veterans’ committee.
“There have been a lot of great players from [Latin American] countries. Roberto Clemente is a legend. Along with what he did as a baseball player, there’s what he did for humanity. Juan Marichal had the wins record [for Dominican-born pitchers] before Bartolo broke it. You had the all-Alou outfield in San Fran. That was pretty cool. Luis Aparicio won a bunch of Gold Gloves at shortstop. My dad had a bat signed by Aparicio in his office and would always talk about him.
“To me, what Babe Ruth did is the most-impressive thing in baseball history. He had almost 100 wins as a pitcher, then outhit an entire league in home runs. That in itself is a claim to being the greatest player of all-time. And there are so many other greats. Rogers Hornsby. Honus Wagner. Ty Cobb. Some of these guys played before there were numbers (on uniforms). That’s cool too, how numbers came into existence. It was from the batting order, right? I think the Yankees and Indians were the first teams to do it.
“There are some current players who are even more diehard — even more over the top — than me. There are card collectors like Neshek and Ziegler who take it to an extreme. But baseball clubhouses are really diverse. Some guys grew up huge baseball fans while others simply grew up being really good at baseball. You’ll run into guys who barely even know who they’re playing against that day. Most are pretty familiar with the current crop of players, though.
“I have a great appreciation for who I’m playing against. I was actually just talking to my wife about that last week. I kind of kick myself about something I haven’t done yet, which is sending over jerseys for guys to sign. I’ve seen other players do it. Say I want Mookie Betts. I’d have our clubhouse guy, Tony, get a Mookie Betts jersey — I’d pay for it — and when the Red Sox came to Cleveland, I would sent it over with another clubhouse attendant. He would ask, ‘Hey, do you mind signing this for Dan Otero?’ From what I’ve heard, more often than not guys are amenable to doing that.
“There is always a crop of current players who will be in the Hall of Fame. It would be cool to kind of commemorate that. Years from now I’d have something to remind me, ’Hey, I played against that guy.’ I have a couple of teammates right now who could be future Hall of Famers. I take note of things like that. I often take a step back and cherish, and relish, all of this.
“I get asked to sign autographs quite a bit. People recognize you, or they’ll see you walking out for batting practice, or leaving the park. It’s always fun to sign for kids. They get so excited. I remember being one of those kids. I’d get googly-eyed seeing a player up close, so I try to do my best with that. There are obviously players on the team who are more popular than me, and most of them do a great job with the kids.
“Sometimes I get mistaken for Yan Gomes. Apparently a lot of fans in Cleveland think I look like him. Over the All-Star break I was flying down to meet my family in south Florida. A guy sitting next to me — an Indians fan — congratulated me on the first half, and on our win that day. We’d just beaten the Yankees. When we were getting off the plane he asked when I was going to fly to Washington for the All-Star game. I was like, ‘I’m not Yan Gomes.’ He was like, ‘Ohhhh.’ It was pretty funny.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.