Luz Portobanco, the starting pitcher in the first game in Cyclones’ history, died in a car accident on July 5 near Managua, Nicaragua.
The Miami-born hurler was 28 years old.
Portobanco was driving between Leon and Managua when his car went off the road at about 2:40 am, according to El Nuevo Diario, a Nicaraguan paper.
The right-hander was the Mets’ 36th-round draft pick in 2000, and made the Cyclones in 2001. He started the team’s first game on June 19, 2001 in Jamestown, and pitched well. For the record, the first pitch in Clones history was a strike, right down the middle.
Portobanco went 5–3 in the Cyclones’ first season with a 2.04 ERA. He was also a devout Christian whose religious faith helped him bridge the usual gap between Latino and American-born players.
A fierce competitor, he was particularly effective against the Cyclones’ arch-rival, the Staten Island Yankees, going 3–0 against the Baby Bombers in the regular season, with a 0.53 ERA. He allowed only one run in 17 innings on only five hits. This success earned him the nickname of “Yankee Killer.”
“Each time I’ve pitched to them, I changed my style,” the crafty righty, who features a fastball, change-up and slow curve, said after that third straight victory in 2001.
But success eluded the 6-foot-3, 205-pound fireballer. After his year with the Cyclones, he spent most of 2002 with the Mets’ Capital City Bombers in the Class-A South Atlantic League, where he was 4–5 with a 5.57 ERA. He finished that season in St. Lucie, where he was 0–2 with an 8.18 ERA.
Portobanco remained in the Mets’ farm system through 2006, when he was released. His career numbers were quite different from that glorious first year in Brooklyn: 17 wins, 35 losses, with a 5.01 ERA.
At the time of his death, he was a pitcher for Boer in the Nicaraguan First Division.
Portobanco was always a fan favorite because of his sense of humor, and he was well-liked by the Brooklyn players, and the coaching staff.
“Luz was a nice, sweet person, like a big kid,” Cyclones manager Edgar Alfonzo said this week. Alfonzo was Portobanco’s manager during Brooklyn’s inaugural season.
“He called me ‘Pop,’ and I was like a second father to him. His mother always called me, and asked me to watch out for him. She wanted me to keep him straight, and he respected me, listened to me.
“He had a lot of talent, and was a tough competitor, and always wanted the ball. Inside, he had a big heart.”
He was also loved as a fierce competitor in his year with the Cyclones. When a brawl broke out during a game against the Hudson Valley Renegades, Portobanco didn’t just sit on the bench, but rushed to the field to defend his bullpen compadre Francisco Sosa.
“I’ll always remember Porto at the heart of that magical inaugural season — someone who lived life loud and with passion, who thought of his teammates as brothers, and of Brooklyn as a second home,” said Cyclones spokesman Dave Campanaro. “And I’ll think of him leading the ‘Cha-Cha Slide’ with teammates and fans after the 2001 playoff victory over Staten Island.”
The Cyclones will have a moment of silence for Luz Portobanco before their game on Saturday, July 12 at 6 pm.