Baseball has had its share of “Docs.”
Among others, there was Doc Gooden, Doc Crandall and Doc Halladay.
None was an actual doctor.
Marlins rookie pitcher Pablo Lopez is no doctor, either, and no one yet has given him the nickname “Doc,” perhaps because he’s only been in the big-leagues for two weeks, or perhaps because most players on the Marlins aren’t familiar with his background.
But, if not for his love of baseball, the 22-year-old hurler from Venezuela might now be wearing a stethoscope and treating patients instead of throwing the pill in an effort to record outs.
“When I graduated from high school, I got accepted into med school, and I also got the opportunity to sign with the Seattle Mariners, pretty much at the same time,” Lopez said.
He was only 16, a very intelligent 16.
Lopez’s parents were both doctors and, growing up, he read his father’s anatomy books that were lying around the house.
“I was always in that environment,” Lopez said. They used to keep lots of (medical) books on the bookshelves, and I was always intrigued with them. And I would read about it.”
By the time he was 5, he was so gifted intellectually that his parents put him in first grade with the 6-year-olds.
In his spare time, he tagged along with his parents to their practices.
“I would go to the hospital with my dad, the clinic with my mom,” he said.
Medicine wasn’t his only interest. He became fluent in four languages: Spanish, English, Portuguese and Italian, though he said now his Italian is rusty and he’s only used Portuguese when conversing with a couple of his Brazilian teammates in the Mariners’ farm system.
Lopez graduated first in his high school class with a grade-point average of 19.8 on a scale of 1 to 20 and, after acing a standardized test, was accepted to med school in Venezuela.
“I kept going through high school and I promised my family I would finish it, because sometimes back in Latin countries, if you’re going to play baseball, a lot of people just drop out of high school,” he said “I promised my family I would not do that.”
But Lopez also realized he could not play professional baseball and become a doctor. It had to be one or the other.
“I wanted to do baseball, and I also wanted to be a doctor,” he said. “As I grew older, I realized I couldn’t do both, especially at the same time.”
When the Mariners offered him a chance to sign a professional contract in 2012, he chose baseball.
Lopez rationalized his decision this way:
“The body, as you grow older, gets weaker,” he said. “The mind just gets stronger. Baseball is a one-time opportunity. That was my thought process. I could always go back to school.”
His decision met with mixed reactions from family members. They were big believers in education. His sister is a lawyer and his brother is studying to become an engineer.
“My dad used to say, ‘I want you to be a baseball player. But I already picture you as a surgeon,’” Lopez said. “He’s a big baseball fan, but he’s a doctor, too.”
Lopez ended up with the Marlins last summer when they acquired the promising minor-league pitcher and three other prospects from the Mariners in a trade for David Phelps.
After a successful stint in the Marlins’ farm system (he had a mind-boggling 0.62 ERA at Double A Jacksonville earlier this season), Lopez was called up to the Marlins, earning the win in his big-league debut against the Mets on June 30. He’s gone 1-1 with a 6.35 ERA in his three starts.
His Marlins teammates have figured out quickly that Lopez is no dummy.
“Martin (Prado) and I call him ‘Wikipedia’ because when we don’t know something, we say ‘Ask Pablo. He definitely will know,’” said Marlins infielder Miguel Rojas.
For now, Lopez is no ‘Doc.’ Perhaps that nickname will come eventually.
Once his baseball career is over, it may become more than just a nickname, as in Dr. Pablo Lopez.
He said he intends to return to school after his playing days are over to earn his college degree and perhaps his M.D.
“As of now, that’s my plan,” Lopez said. “That’s one of my goals, to get a degree in something.”