By Will Carter MTN Sports Reporter April 28, 2021
Athletes, for the most part, are held to a higher standard than the common person in our society. Spectators are provided a fisheye view into an athlete’s life -- almost never getting the full narrative. Base hits and stolen bases are shortstop Fausto Lopez’s expertise, but what lies underneath the stitches and buttons fuels him.
Many baseball players grow up playing and loving the game. It is a sport that can be played at any age and virtually any place. Fausto Lopez grew up in Brooklyn, New York where his love for the game began. His competitiveness and motivation was apparent even before he could recite his ABCs.
“When I was little, everything I did revolved around sports. I started playing baseball when I was three.” Lopez said. “I would take the batteries out of the television remote and have my brother toss me the batteries to practice hitting.”
The caliber of baseball in Brooklyn at the time of Lopez’s youth was not equivalent to what it is now. With that in mind, he moved to Saint Cloud, Florida with his uncle to start his high school career. His cousin, also Fausto Lopez, played at the University of Tampa, so it was a great opportunity to learn and train alongside him.
“We’re very tight knit, and baseball is all we breathe, sleep and eat,” Lopez’s cousin said. “We told him off the bat we wanted him to go to college, and we wanted him to play baseball.”
Florida has always been a hotspot for professional baseball players and teams to conduct their offseason training, and Lopez was exposed to much of it. His cousin played with numerous individuals that would eventually get drafted into the majors. Alexis Rivera was one of them. Through his cousin, Lopez formed a relationship with Rivera that was always deeper than baseball.
“Baseball makes friends, but after that you have a brotherhood,” Lopez’s cousin said. “From the first day that my cousin met Alexis, he took him under his wing like his little brother.”
Rivera was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals in 2012. He spent the majority of his playing career in the minor leagues before returning home to Puerto Rico in 2015 for the Puerto Rican Winter League. In the offseason, Rivera would return to Florida to train, and Lopez seized every opportunity he could to be there with him.
“When I was in high school, he was playing professional baseball,” Lopez said. “He was always with our family, so I learned a lot about his mindset and the importance of the grind.”
Baseball is a sport that constantly has to be worked at regardless of how athletically gifted someone is. Lopez dedicated a lot of his free time to training and soaking up as much as possible from Rivera. Summer after summer, they spent hours hitting balls and working on mechanics, but the life lessons are what Lopez holds onto the most.
“He was very confident, and anything I did if I didn’t wanna do it, he always nudged me a little bit,” Lopez said. “He’d always say to me, ‘Come on man, I know you ain't scared.’ Whether it was baseball or talking to a girl, he would say that. That translated to my demeanor on the field.”
Unfortunately, Rivera passed away last September due to natural causes, but his impact on Lopez and many others will live on for a long time.
“In everything I do, I have him in the back of my mind,” Lopez said. “I know he’s happy with everything that’s going, and I know he’s got my back from up there.”
Hard work always pays off, and that is true for Lopez and the season he has put together so far for the Blue Raiders. In 39 games, he is batting an average of .294 with 18 RBIs. His speed and explosiveness has been a spectacle to watch all season. Lopez is currently sitting in the top 20 of all NCAA Division-1 players in stolen bases with 18.
Statistics and accolades motivate almost every athlete, but Lopez finds his inspiration in the team.
“He cares about the team, and he wants to do well for them,” second baseman JT Mabry said. “I think that drives him mainly. He’ll do anything for the team.”
At any point in a game, Lopez can be found joking around with his teammates and with a smile on his face. His energy and on-field antics will oftentimes get the whole team excited. Whether it’s hitting a walk-off RBI or making a highlight reel play in the field, he always finds a way to bring the Blue Raiders together.
“Fausto is a team leader, spark plug, and a fun guy to be around,” MTSU head coach Jim Toman said. “If we had nine Fausto’s in the lineup and at practice every day, we’d be pretty darn good. If he goes, we go.”
From New York to Tennessee, Lopez has made an impact on every person and every team he has been a part of. Lopez will look to continue his successes, and honor the late Alexis Rivera for the rest of the season.