For Mauricio Dubon, trade to Giants is a homecoming

Sacramento River Cats infielder Mauricio Dubon readies to swing at a pitch on August 7, 2019 at Raley Field in Sacramento, Calif. (Courtesy: Ralph Thompson / Sacramento River Cats)
Honduran infielder Mauricio Dubon (right), acquired by the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline, attended his first Giants game at then-AT&T Park with host brother Ben Ritchey on Aug. 25, 2010, at the age of 16. (Courtesy / Andy Ritchey)
Mauricio Dubon fields a ball at shortstop during a game on Aug. 7, 2019 at Raley Field in Sacramento. Though he plays primarily shortstop, Dubon has gotten time at second base for the Sacramento River Cats in preparation for his San Francisco Giants debut. (Courtesy Ralph Thompson / River Cats)

SACRAMENTO — When Tyson Garcia answered a FaceTime call from Mauricio Dubon on July 31, he knew from Dubon’s smile: He’d been traded to the San Francisco Giants.

He was coming home to his favorite team.

Acquired from the Brewers for two major league arms, Dubon was arguably team president Farhan Zaidi’s most important trade deadline acquisition. He’s why the Giants cut longtime starting second baseman Joe Panik, whose jersey used to hang in Dubon’s Rosemont, Calif. closet.

Though a natural shortstop who can play the outfield, Dubon, 25, has a clear path to be the Giants’ second baseman of the future. Panik was hitting a career-worst .235 when he was released last week, and big-league power bat Scooter Gennett — also acquired at the deadline — is a two-month rental for the playoff push. With a .299 average over seven minor league seasons, Dubon profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter with plus-plus speed, above-average pop and the potential to be an elite glove.

“Dubon is hopefully a piece of the long-term puzzle,” Zaidi said. “… Dubon is part of the long-term picture.”

Born in Honduras, where soccer is the national sport, Dubon had seen many baseball missionary groups come down to try and grow the game, handing out bats, gloves, pants and catcher’s gear. They promised playing opportunities in the United States, but none of them materialized for him. That’s why, when Impact International Baseball Academy — a Sacramento-based group — came down to Dubon’s hometown of San Pedro Sula in June of 2010, Dubon was skeptical.

He didn’t want to go to practice that day in front of the visiting coaches, but his mother Jeannett urged him to at least give these Americans — including Capital Christian High School head coach Nelson Randolph — a chance.

“Go,” she said. “You never know.”

Using an eight-year-old glove, Dubon impressed with his quickness and athleticism. Following the Wednesday workout, Jeannett spoke with the coaches, and asked if there was any way Mauricio could play in the United States. They turned to Andy Ritchey, who was on the trip with his 15-year-old son Ben, and asked if he could host.

Ritchey called his wife Sandy for the OK, and by Saturday, Dubon — then just 15 — was riding up an airport escalator between Ben and Andy, with just a small bag of clothes and his passport, waving goodbye to his family.

“For the dream, for their son, they were willing to do anything,” Andy said.

Within two days of arriving in the U.S., Dubon asked if he could sleep in Ben’s room, instead of his own. He wanted to talk baseball.

“They were like brothers,” Sandy said. “They were inseparable. It was like having twins.”

After playing alongside Ben that summer for the Sacramento Heat, Dubon was to return to Honduras for school. Before his redeye flight from SFO on Aug. 25, the Ritcheys took the boys to then-AT&T Park for Dubon’s first Giants game. As Dubon stepped through the gates that morning, he spread his arms wide, closed his eyes, looked up into the sky and took a deep breath.

“Some day,” Sandy said, “you’re going to play here.”

Dubon returned to the United States for good in May of 2011, enrolling at Capital Christian as a junior.

With Dubon at shortstop and Ben pitching, the two would use pickoff moves they concocted late at night to terrorize opposing baserunners. Dubon eventually involved Taylor Garcia — Tyson’s son — who became his double play partner in his second and final prep season. When he wasn’t with the Ritcheys, he was at the Garcias’ home.

Between his two new families, Dubon would go to several Giants games a year, and he watched as much as he could on television. He loved Brandon Crawford — buying a replica of his likely future double play partner’s jersey — and hardly missed any of the Giants’ 2012 World Series run, posting up in the Ritcheys’ living room to watch the team he’d had fallen in love with two years earlier.

“My dad [Andy] would always say I’d look so good in that cream uniform,” Dubon said. “Everybody did.”

Dubon hit .509 with 81 RBIs in 59 games for Captial Christian, and in 2013, he was drafted in the 26th round by the Boston Red Sox. He spent the offseasons in Sacramento with the Ritcheys and the Garcias, and as San Francisco made yet another playoff run in 2014, Tyson bought tickets to Game 5 of the National League Championship series. Dubon — who hit .320 that summer for the Single-A Lowell Spinners — joined him and Taylor in the upper deck, down the third base line.

They watched as Travis Ishikawa hit the walk-off home run to send San Francisco back to the World Series.

“I still remember the pitch: 2-0 fastball, down and in,” Dubon said. “I was wearing my uniform, my Crawford jersey.”

That was the last time Dubon was at Oracle Park. He was eventually traded to the Brewers in 2016, and finally made his big league debut in Pittsburgh on July 7 of this season, but was sent down after just two games. He called Tyson, almost in tears. He didn’t know what else he could do. Tyson, Andy and Dubon started trading texts about various trade rumors. A week later, Tyson got the FaceTime call while he was about to step into the shower. He sent a text to Ritchey: “Pinch me Andy …. God is soooo good!!”

Dubon now puts aside 35 tickets per game for his extended surrogate family to see him play for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. He could return to San Francisco as soon as September.

“He’s on a mission,” Ritchey said, standing on a grass hill down the right field line at Raley Field while watching Dubon play for the River Cats. “His dream, from a young man, was to be doing what he’s doing right now. Well, one more step.”

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