At last count, there are approximately 207.7 million people in Brazil. Of the 207.7 million, four (4) have played in the major leagues. I believe (or this online calculator believes, at least) that’s 0.000002%.
Of those four, two are currently active.
Of those two, one is a pitcher.
And he made his MLB debut for the Seattle Mariners last night.
This is already an impossible idea, but it goes further: Thyago Vieira believes he is carrying each one of those millions and millions of people on his back. He sees himself as the representative of Brazilian baseball, an ambassador, a symbol of the talent yet to be discovered within the fifth-largest country in the world. Even though he’s just 24, Vieira has been pitching with his country’s name across his chest since he was a teenager. Like another Mariners pitcher, Emilio Pagán, Vieira had the experience of playing in the World Baseball Classic and showing off Brazilian baseball to the world, gaining experience in high-leverage situations while representing his country. It’s a responsibility he takes seriously, to open the doors behind him for the next group of players from Brazil.
If there’s going to be a push for baseball in Brazil, it needs to happen sooner rather than later. After years of economic recovery under the left-wing Worker’s Party and a surge to become an emerging market, Brazil, thanks to the corruption of the very party that purported to save it, has slipped into a recession over the past few years, with financial analysts forecasting things will get worse before they get better. Unlike poorer countries like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, however, Brazil has very little in the way of established academies that could offer talented youngsters a path to baseball. Having a player like Vieira gain attention in the majors could mean big things for the development of the sport. No pressure, Thyago.
Luckily, if there was to be an angel of Brazilian baseball, there’s probably not a better one than the gentle giant Vieira, whose 800-watt smile transcends any language barrier. Baseball is a workplace like any other, but as he’s progressed through the organization, Thyago has endeared himself to everyone, at every level, from front office staff to reporters to his teammates, who consistently report that he is every bit the genuine, kind soul he appears.
Thyago’s nickname for himself is “The Blessed One.” His path to baseball has been full of unlikely twists and turns, and he credits his strong faith as seeing him through the difficult parts of minor league life, specifically, being separated from his family, his wife and young daughter. In his debut, however, his self-given sobriquet took on a sobering weight when he was almost hit in the head with a 98 mph comebacker off the bat of Chris Davis on the very first MLB pitch he ever threw.
“God got me,” Vieira has said with a smile, when explaining the deep source of his confidence. The Blessed One, indeed.
Still: one pitch, one out. Vieira would then miss on his next pitch inside at 100 to something called a Joey Rickard before coming back to hit his next two spots for strikes. He disposed of Rickard on the fourth pitch of the at-bat on a diabolical slider that just nicked the outer corner of the plate at 84 mph (Rickard couldn’t check his swing on it anyway). Five pitches later—including one pretty wild slider that hit the backstop, to be honest—and he jammed Caleb Joseph with 100 on the hands to get him to ground out weakly.
Last night’s game was a sucky suckfest of suck (although I do recommend you read Zach Milkis’s most excellent recap if you haven’t—it’s delightful, I promise), but Vieira’s debut gave this heartworn fan, at least, something to cheer about. It reminded me of another young fireballer’s debut on a grim Monday night loss to Cleveland back on June 6 of last year. He still can suffer from the occasional lapse of control—his warmup pitch that struck the backstop did not impress home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, who side-eyed the young pitcher over his shoulder—but Thyago Vieira is a beam of sunshine at a time when Mariners fans need a little light.