Everything I've been through in my career since I first came up in 2001 -- getting moved up and down and struggling -- has taught me a lot. I've learned. Finally, last season I was more confident and comfortable in my experience and knowledge of the game.
I was brought up fast, before I really had a chance to mature as a baseball player. I knew had the ability, but I was still developing the mental side of it. By that I mean anything from blocking out family situations and not bringing them to the field to knowing what to do to get prepared for each game.
I was at the point where, finally, I had been through it enough and played enough games that I knew what to expect and what I need to do to get ready. I was finally in a position to succeed. I applied that experience and developed an everyday routine that was helpful for me.
The Blue Jays and the Reds have treated me very well. I was just young. I needed to mature. I was ready physically and talent-wise, but I just wasn't ready yet mentally. I learned a lot on my own. I found myself looking back and saying, "Why did I do this?" or "Why didn't I do that?" a lot.
I've decided to concentrate on Spring Training this year rather than play in the World Baseball Classic. My family over in Puerto Rico tells me I'm getting a lot of bad press because of it. But in my heart, I know I've made the right decision.
We have a new manager and new coaches and I felt it was important to stay here and get acquainted with them. We've also had five losing seasons here, so I think we have a lot of work to do here on the Reds this spring to turn that around. It was more important to me to concentrate on my job at this stage.
I would love to represent Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic but I don't just represent Puerto Rico when I play in an international tournament. I represent my country every day when I play in the Major Leagues, off and on the field -- not just a few weeks in a tournament. I'm not a Puerto Rican for just 16 days in March. I represent Puerto Rico for 162 games every season here. To me, at this stage of my career, this was the better decision for me.
I want to be able to represent Puerto Rico for the next 15 years as a Major Leaguer. I'd love to play in the tournament some day. Maybe next time around I'll be in a better position to do that.
Right now, I just want to focus on being prepared and giving 100 percent on the field every day of the season.
Felipe Lopez, a switch-hitter who was the eighth overall selection in the 1998 draft, had a breakout season in 2005, batting .291 with 23 home runs, 85 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Reds. He was named to the National League All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger Award at shortstop.
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