Ernis Arias joined the Peruvian Baseball Federation coaching staff in 2018 as the manager of Team Peru 23U and an assistant for the Peruvian national team. A native of Venezuela, Arias attended college in the United States (at Ellsworth Community College and Olivet Nazarene University, where he played for ABCA Hall of Famer Elliot Johnson). After graduating he began his coaching career at the Chicago Hope Academy. Arias is now a multi-year ABCA member. He’s married to Jhoanna Molina and has two children, Paula and Ernis Paul.
Inside Pitch: How does the baseball culture in Peru compare to Venezuela and the United States?
Baseball is growing down here. It is not a new sport; the Japanese migration brought baseball to Peru 120 years ago. The most popular sport in our country by a wide margin is soccer, but the Venezuelan migration [of about a million people] to Lima and the Pan-American games [Lima 2019] really helped give baseball a lot of exposure here. Nowadays, it is common to see people playing catch in public parks or playing softball at improvised fields by the beach.
IP: What was it like transitioning from your native Venezuela to Peru, and how did baseball play a part in that?
I didn’t know baseball would be down here, honestly. My first contact with baseball was through my church here in Lima. In January 2018, they were asking for interpreters for a group of missionary baseball coaches from the States, and as you can imagine, I volunteered myself right away. The rest is history!
IP: What kind of competitions do you participate in?
We’ve been participating in elite international tournaments COPABE [Spanish abbreviation for Confederación Panamericana de Béisbol, or the Pan American Baseball Confederation]. One of them, the Caribbean Cup, is in the Dominican Republic. We actually got second place in a tournament down there in December 2019, losing in the final to the Dominican Republic team. That was a thrill!
In the 2019 PanAm Games, we were the only team without professional players on our roster, and we played eventual champ Puerto Rico really tight. We ended up losing 4-1, but we forced them to bring in their closer and one of our outfielders made SportsCenter on ESPN. That was a great day for baseball in Peru.
IP: What changes have you seen in the last few years in the Peruvian baseball and National team?
I asked our team captain, Susumu Yoza, to answer this question: “The changes in our team started when taking on a different type of competition. Before, we basically played against our neighbors in the region. Playing in the States and in the Caribbean have shown us the level where we would like to be. On top of that, our coaches have emphasized on the techniques and physical strength which have made a big difference in our current level. Now the key is to keep investing in the next generations of baseball players of Peru.”
IP: What are some ways you hope to continue to grow the game in Peru?
I was inspired by the article about Seungpyo Choi’s, Building Baseball in Korea [May-June 2020 issue]. Just as he does, I think it’s important to promote the work we are doing here and work to connect baseball people all over the globe. The resources available as members of the American Baseball Coaches Association have given us that extra push that we need, hosting coaches and inviting baseball missionaries to come to Lima to preach the Word of God and coach baseball. Many of them are former professional baseball players, and current pro coaches. We really look forward to that event, which has been going on for a decade. That’s what baseball is all about!
IP: What are the future plans for the Peruvian Baseball Federation?
We’re trying to reach youth all over the country through Physical Education programs in schools and investing in the leagues we already have, because they are continuing to improve in numbers and quality of play. I was blessed to be at Olivet during Elliot Johnson’s last year there – we still keep in touch on a regular basis. Being in a country where it’s hard to find quality baseball materials and proper instruction is difficult, so the ABCA website, Inside Pitch and other avenues have allowed us to learn from coaches like Tim Corbin, Andy Schatzley, Kai Correa, Mervyl Melendez, Trent Mongero, Nate Trosky and many others.
I feel like I am staying updated and continuing to learn, and I just want to let you all know that there are many coaches just like me who are very grateful for the work you do.
If you’re interested in learning more about Peruvian baseball or know of Peruvian American baseball players in the States, please contact [email protected].