FIVE EXECUTIVES FROM Octagon and two others from Major League Baseball’s player marketing team traveled to Tampa, Florida, to meet with Gleyber Torres in January. They rented a private room near the back of a fancy steakhouse and spent five hours talking about his brand potential. Meetings like these are hardly ever staged for baseball players; they’re usually reserved for stars of the NBA and the NFL, sports with greater appeal to younger fans. But Torres possessed both the potential and the interest. He flew his parents and his in-laws in from Venezuela and stayed engaged throughout, constantly asking questions.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was partly right when, in reference to superstar Mike Trout, he stated that baseball players are generally unmotivated to promote themselves. Marketing agencies have understood this for years. Their schedules are especially arduous and their contracts are both lucrative and fully guaranteed, making them less inclined to do the extra work required to become culture-defining, front-facing athletes. Latin players who aren’t as comfortable speaking English and don’t spend their offseasons in the U.S. tend to be even less interested.
Torres, however, is different. He realized early on that he didn’t just want to be a professional baseball player; he wanted to be good and popular and transcendent, not because he’s arrogant or entitled but because he’s a long-term thinker who always placed himself within a larger context.
“He showed that at a young age, when he was 11, 12 years old,” Torres’ father, Eusebio, said in Spanish. “By then he was already thinking about bigger things — adult stuff.”
Torres, 23, sits courtside at Barclays Center and wants to attend New York Fashion Week. He constantly practices his English, has learned how to cultivate a certain image on social media and is working on looking fans in the eye when signing autographs.
Torres wore only Nike before the company even knew who he was because that’s what guys like LeBron James and Ken Griffey Jr. did. Today, the New York Yankees’ star infielder, who will move to shortstop on a full-time basis this season, owns a lucrative endorsement deal from Nike that gives him the freedom to fully customize his cleats and batting gloves. BioSteel, a sports-nutrition company with roots in Toronto, made him its first U.S.-based baseball client and also its first Hispanic client. The same occurred with PSD, a popular underwear retailer that also sponsors NBA stars such as Kyrie Irving and Trae Young.
Three national endorsements is exceedingly rare for a baseball player. It’s even rarer for a Latin American in his early 20s who has spent most of his life in another country and speaks English only as a second language. Imagine that — a kid from Venezuela emerging from a country filled with poverty to become the face of a seemingly unmarketable sport, in a country that isn’t his own. It’s a thought Torres is willing to entertain.
“It would be, above all, an honor,” he said. “A tremendous honor. I’ve worked since I was little to accomplish that. All those years, all those sacrifices — it would bring enormous satisfaction to me, but mostly to my family, which has supported me from the beginning.”
GLEYBER TORRES GREW up in the San Bernardino portion of Caracas, the largest city in Venezuela. He lived in a humble, middle-class neighborhood with an appreciable sense of community but also heightened tension. Crime and violence were prevalent, fights among rival gangs a constant. On too many nights, gunshots went off and Torres’ parents would move him into their bed, hiding him underneath the blankets to calm his nerves.
“It scared us a lot,” Eusebio Torres said. “It was a constant fear.”
Eusebio was and still is a diehard fan of the local team, the Caracas Lions. He stopped playing baseball at age 16, started fast-pitch softball at 21 and stopped again five years later to help guide Gleyber through his own pursuit. Eusebio bought Gleyber a plastic bat when he was 2 years old, enrolled him in his first league after he turned 4 and served as a volunteer coach on his teams until he was accepted into a baseball academy in Maracay at age 12.
Three years before that, Eusebio began to think Gleyber could someday play professionally. He swung a bat easily, learned quickly and was already excelling on teams with older kids. Eusebio, now 46, spent most of Gleyber’s youth selling tamale leaves and working with closed-circuit security cameras. But he still made time for extra grounders or sporadic trips to the batting cage. When work got in the way, Gleyber’s mother, Ibelise Castro, drove him everywhere.
“I never missed a practice,” Gleyber said, “never missed a game because my parents needed to work.”
Eusebio, who got back into competitive softball after Gleyber left for the academy and now catches in a semi-pro baseball league on the weekends, still has a newspaper clipping from one of the first articles ever written about his son. It was published right before he signed with the Chicago Cubs on July 2, 2013. Above the story, in bold white letters on a red background, is a quote from Torres: “Quiero comprarle una casa mas grande a mis padres.” (“I want to buy my parents a bigger house.”)
In December 2013, Gleyber used part of his $1.7 million signing bonus to move his parents from their two-bedroom house in the Northern part of Caracas to a 6,500-square-foot residence on the Eastern part of the city, in a quieter neighborhood with a lot more security. They all spent New Year’s Eve there together and thought about how quickly their lives had changed.
His next goal: To bring his parents to the U.S. with him.
Said Eusebio: “He doesn’t stop talking about it.”
GLEYBER TORRES BECAME the youngest MVP in Arizona Fall League history in November 2016. He was a consensus top-seven prospect when the following season began, then surged past the Eastern League as a 20-year-old and compiled an .847 OPS through his first 22 games at the Triple-A level. Before summer officially began in the Northern Hemisphere, Torres’ call-up to the major leagues was beginning to seem imminent.
Then came the fourth inning of a June 17 doubleheader in downtown Buffalo, New York. Mark Payton slapped a sharp single to the right side and Torres attempted to score from second base. Ian Parmley, playing right field for the Buffalo Bisons that afternoon, made a perfect one-hop throw that forced Torres to improvise. He lunged awkwardly near the back of the batter’s box, extended toward home plate and immediately felt a sharp pain through his left arm. The injury was initially ruled a hyperextension, but a follow-up MRI revealed the torn ulnar collateral ligament that would end his season.
Torres began to cry.
“That moment,” he said, “it felt like everything exploded.”
Torres suddenly lost his zeal; he realizes now that he might have been depressed. He went through his rehab exercises lifelessly and began to despise the game he always loved. He deleted the MLB app from his phone and shunned himself from professional baseball altogether for a period of about two months. His only contact was through teammates such as Miguel Andujar, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, who joined Torres’ wife, Elizabeth, in a constant effort to lift his spirits.
Little by little, the listlessness began to thaw. Torres began to understand his circumstances in a broader sense and started to celebrate the minor victories of his recovery. His elbow healed quicker than the doctors projected. By the time spring training began the following year, Torres was noticeably wiser, stronger, more confident.
“There’s a Gleyber Torres before 2017,” his longtime trainer, Cesar Paublini, said, “and there’s a Gleyber Torres after 2017.”
Torres managed only seven hits and struck out 10 times in 32 spring training at-bats in 2018. It was obvious that he had gone eight months without seeing live pitching, which only made it easier for the Yankees to send him to Triple-A and keep him there long enough to gain an extra season of control.
The cutoff to qualify for a full year of major league service time was 15 days, and Torres was motivated not to wait any longer. He told his agent, Jose Mijares, to find him a cheap hotel in Scranton, Pennsylvania, because his stay would last only half a month. Mijares instead found him a landlord who loved the Yankees and would be flexible on the lease. When he arrived at his new place, Torres spotted a calendar on the refrigerator and began to cross off each day with an “X.”
Torres went 8-for-24 during an opening six-game homestand for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Before he left for a seven-day road trip, he told Elizabeth, whom he met at age 17, to get their stuff ready — they’d be leaving for the Bronx shortly after he returned. Through stops in North Carolina and Georgia, he hit .421 and constantly told his teammates to enjoy him while they had him. Torres played two more games in Scranton, then drove to Yankee Stadium on the morning of April 22 — after the 16th day of the RailRiders’ season.
IT WAS THE first few weeks of the 2013 calendar year, and Donny Rowland, the Yankees’ international scouting director, was going over the best prospects in Latin America. Gleyber Torres was ranked first, but Rowland glossed over him and spoke in more detail about the other players. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman wanted to hear more about Torres, who by then was only 16, but Cashman was told the Cubs already had a verbal agreement.
It’s common for prospects out of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to commit to teams a few months before the international signing period officially begins in early July. But the Cubs liked Torres so much that they seemingly locked him up around Thanksgiving of the prior year. Torres honored his commitment, but Cashman kept him at the forefront of his mind. Every time he spoke with Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, Torres’ name came up.
“You don’t forget those guys,” Cashman said. “You follow them. You follow their careers and you still dream on them. The reports stand out in your mind and you don’t let go of it.”
A real opportunity presented itself in the summer of 2016. The Yankees had a dominant closer on a team that wouldn’t make the playoffs, and the Cubs had a late-inning need on a team with World Series aspirations. The Yankees sought impact talent in exchange for Aroldis Chapman, but the Cubs balked on parting with guys such as Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez for a two- to three-month rental. Cashman kept shopping until Epstein finally agreed to consider the top of his prospect list. It meant one name: Gleyber Torres. The Cubs ultimately included him as the headliner in a package that also included Adam Warren, Rashad Crawford and Billy McKinney.
Cashman immediately sent Rowland a text message: We finally got our man.
Through two seasons with the Yankees, Torres has made two All-Star teams and has batted .275/.338/.511 with 105 extra-base hits in 267 games. Last August, he joined Joe DiMaggio as the only Yankees with 30 home runs at the age of 22. He finished the regular season with 38, trailing only Alex Rodriguez for the most home runs by a middle infielder before his 23rd birthday, then drove in five runs in the opening game of the American League Championship Series.
Cashman has been surprised by Torres’ power and has noticed “a very slow heartbeat” in pressure-packed moments, a trait that helped make Derek Jeter an icon. This year, with a significantly shorter schedule, Torres will play more than 20% of his games against the Baltimore Orioles and the Miami Marlins, two of the worst teams in the sport, all while spending the vast majority of his time in hitter-friendly ballparks. His numbers could look absurd.
Moving forward, from 2021 to 2024, ZiPS projects Torres to OPS .945, .943, .961 and .961, respectively, and compile a combined 21 FanGraphs wins above replacement (fWAR).
When that stretch is over, he will be only 27.
“I can tell you he wants to be great,” Cashman said. “He’s not content with just being in the major leagues and being good. He wants to be great. He is very driven, very hungry and doesn’t wanna be denied anything.”
GLEYBER TORRES RECEIVED his green card during this quarantine period and can apply for citizenship in five years, at which point he hopes to bring his parents to the U.S. on a permanent basis.
Jose Mijares calls it “his No. 1 motivation.”
Venezuela has long been embroiled in turmoil, marked by a reeling economy, rampant crime, constant political unrest and severed ties with the U.S. Eusebio and Ibelise typically spend about half their year with Gleyber in the U.S. but don’t have the permanent visas that would allow them to stay longer than a few weeks at a time. When they’re not with him, they call every day and do their best to keep his mind at ease. But it doesn’t always work. Constant worry in the face of a demanding job is a major challenge for a Venezuelan player.
“It’s tough,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, one of Gleyber’s closest friends in the league, said in Spanish. “It’s like you live on standby. You spend more time thinking about what’s going on in Venezuela and how your family’s doing than anything else. It’s really hard to just focus here and say, ‘Let’s play baseball.'”
Gleyber has already spent about half his life without his parents by his side. As a teenager, he was spending his weekdays at the academy and growing accustomed to seeing his mom and dad only on Saturdays and Sundays. Then he left and built an entire life for himself in another part of the world.
Ten years ago, Eusebio, Ibelise and Gleyber sat in the kitchen table and evaluated the pros and cons of sending him to a baseball academy, a common path for the country’s most talented amateurs. Eusebio and Ibelise were worried about such a young kid abandoning his studies and taking on so much responsibility, but part of them also realized this was Gleyber’s best option — for his future, but also for his safety. Eusebio will never forget the way Gleyber looked him in the eye that night and said, “Just give me the opportunity.”
He now longs for the day when they’re truly together again.
“It’s a dream we have as a family, to be reunited with him, support him in everything that he does and everything having to do with his family, with his wife, with his kids when they come,” Eusebio said. “It’s the ultimate dream — to be together, under the same roof, like a family again.”
WORKOUTS FOR THE Cubs’ rookie-level affiliate in Mesa, Arizona, usually wrapped before noon and Gleyber Torres was always hungry. He could only communicate in Spanish then, so if one of his teammates didn’t order pizza, Torres usually drove to a nearby McDonald’s because the only English phrase he could repeat was his order — double quarter pounder with cheese, no pickles, no onions; large fries; Diet Coke.
Torres is now fluent in English and sick of McDonald’s. Five years ago, he was playing Class A ball in South Bend, Indiana, when a reporter came onto the field with a cameraman and asked for an interview. A coach was summoned to translate. It irritated Torres. He realized then, at 18, that if he truly wanted to be a superstar — if he wanted to be a marketable, recognizable figure — he needed to cut out the middleman and communicate directly to fans in both languages, a concept exhibited to him by David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez.
“What I wanted to say, I wanted people to hear it,” Torres said. “I didn’t want somebody to translate it.”
Torres took accelerated English lessons, became more proactive about building relationships with his American teammates and made it a point to consume popular movies and music from the U.S. He had improved drastically by the following season, but anxiety still kicked in when he played well and an English interview awaited. He kept studying, kept putting himself outside of his comfort zone. And by the time he reached Double-A in 2017, as a top prospect on the most storied franchise in his sport, Torres was conducting English interviews on his own.
Later that summer, while rehabbing his injured elbow, Torres stayed at Jose Mijares’ house in Orlando, Florida. When it was time to leave, he left some books behind and told Mijares to do what he wanted with them. Mijares later found nearly a dozen of them, all in English, about legendary Yankees such as Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter and George Steinbrenner.
Mijares has always been in awe of Torres’ uncommon prudence. He is soft-spoken and polite but unmistakably calculated, as evidenced by the tasks that absorbed a large portion of his past three months — practicing English, reading about Disney executive Bob Iger and learning about the stock market. Mijares likes to tell the story of how Torres saved money from each of his minor league paychecks to buy his first pair of Gucci shoes, even though most of his original signing bonus remained in his account.
But this — studying Yankees history in the buildup to his major league debut, as if some sort of pop quiz awaited him when he arrived — was a different level of foresight.
Mijares called Torres in bewilderment.
“You read all this?”
“Yeah,” Torres said. “Why?”
“No,” Mijares responded, “I wanna ask you — why?“
Mijares gets it now.
“I think he was preparing himself to be one of the most important Yankees ever.”
Braves place Matt Adams, Ozzie Albies on IL, reinstate Nick Markakis
In another move on Wednesday, outfielder Nick Markakis was reinstated from the restricted list. Markakis announced on July 29 that he was returning to the team, three weeks after opting out because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Albies is batting only .159 after he was held without a hit in Tuesday night’s 10-1 win over Toronto. He is in a 2-for-21 slump as he tried to play with a bruised right wrist. The injury led the switch-hitter to bat left-handed against left-hander Anthony Kay in the seventh inning.
Adams has been the team’s primary designated hitter and has made two starts at first base. He hit a second-inning homer on Tuesday night before leaving the game with a strained left hamstring.
Markakis, 36, opted out on July 6, when he said he was uneasy about playing the season without fans and then was swayed by his telephone conversation with teammate Freddie Freeman, who tested positive for COVID-19. Freeman returned for the start of the season.
The injuries to Adams and Albies follow the season-ending torn Achilles tendon suffered by Atlanta’s top starting pitcher, Mike Soroka, on Monday night. The Braves have not announced a replacement for Soroka in the rotation.
In an MLB season short of celebrations, Jon Jay achieves a veteran’s milestone
The pandemic has given us Major League Baseball like we’ve never seen it, on the field and off. No fans in the stands, extended dugouts for social distancing and pitchers carrying their own rosin bags to the mound are among the abnormalities of the 2020 season.
One other everyday aspect of the game that COVID-19 has taken away is celebrating — not just on the field but also off. Significant milestones by players are often met with festive nights out on the town with teammates.
Jon Jay might not be a star name that jumps out when you think of current big league ballplayers. He’s in his second spin with the Arizona Diamondbacks, having moved through six organizations and been traded twice. Since reaching free agency, he has played on four consecutive one-year contracts signed with four different teams, the latest a split deal in which he wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the active roster.
But Jay is about to join an exclusive fraternity on Wednesday. That’s the day he will reach 10 full years of major league service time, something only about 6% of the nearly 20,000 players who have worn a big-league uniform have achieved, according to the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“When you look at the history of this game and the names who have played and to be able to play for 10 years, the numbers are against you, so to reach that number is a huge accomplishment,” Jay said. “This is going to be the first individual accomplishment I’m very, very proud of. Winning the World Series is all about the team. Going to the playoffs is all about the team. But this is personal, and I will definitely cherish this.”
Players need 172 days on an active roster to register a full year of service time. Jay entered this season with nine years, 134 days. During the shortened 2020 season, MLB is using a formula of 2.72 service time days for every calendar day. Aug. 5 marks 14 days since the season started. Using the formula, it is Jay’s 38th service time day, pushing him to 172 days in his 10th season.
That translates into a full major league pension, which is $230,000 per year starting at age 62. Making this achievement more remarkable is that Jay hasn’t always been an everyday player. He isn’t the type of player who wows most fans. But fans aren’t the ones whose opinions matter most.
“From the opposing side, he’s just a solid major league player,” former Padres and Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “There’s not one tool that stands out, but he does everything well. He can play anywhere in the outfield. He’s a tough out at the plate. He’s hit around .300 so many times. He can bunt. He runs the bases well. He’s a solid addition to any team. If he didn’t start, he was so valuable off the bench as a pinch hitter or any way you wanted to use him. I didn’t like him up there against us. He rarely would strike out, and he put the ball in play. You couldn’t shift on him because he goes the other way so well. Without a doubt, guys like that are so important to a ball club. I’m very happy for him to reach 10 years.”
Jay, 35, was born and grew up in the baseball hotbed that is Miami. His parents share a story with many other Cuban families who made their way to the U.S. They emigrated from the island in the early 1960s — after the communist takeover — for the family’s next generation to have a shot at the American dream.
Jay was mostly raised by his maternal grandparents, who sacrificed and made sure Jay was at practices and games on time. He made his way from Miami’s Columbus High School to the University of Miami and then was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.
“I always think about the sacrifices my entire family made so that me and my sister could have a new and different life from what they had,” Jay said.
Jay credits many former teammates and coaches for his reaching 10 years in the bigs. Tony La Russa, Jose Oquendo, Dave McKay, Skip Schumaker, David Freese, Edwin Jackson, Cris Carpenter, Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran are a few of the people in the game who Jay says played roles in his advancement.
“When I think back and look at this journey, the first thing I’m grateful for are the people that really helped me to get to where I am,” Jay said. “From my grandparents to my parents to the life they gave me as a kid. I reflect on all the things that had to come together for me to have accomplished everything I have. Looking up now after quarantine and to say, damn, 10 years in the big leagues.”
Jay might be somewhat representative of a dying breed. As Bochy said, Jay doesn’t possess jaw-dropping tools. But his intellect and intangibles have put him in this rarified company. Even so, analytics and a new way of judging players might keep guys such as Jay from being valued in the future.
“When you try to explain what an outstanding player he is, well, those are words,” said La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager. “But when you accumulate 10 years of major league experience, that’s a credential that not many guys reach. Another point — and I’m not taking a cheap shot — but if we’re not careful in this current environment of disrespecting scouts and coaches and teaching and how important the mental qualities are — how does your heart beat, how tough are you. People that are using formulas tend to disrespect and don’t find uses for guys like Jon. Those guys are invaluable to a roster.
“Jon has one of the highest baseball IQs of any player I’ve had on a team,” La Russa continued. “He brings it to all phases of the game. And once he got past a few years in the game, he became one of the leaders in the clubhouse, and that was one of the real strengths of our Cardinals teams. Having a voice in the clubhouse has everything to do with respect and trust and how sincere you are about embracing the team’s objectives. Everybody makes it a point to be accountable to everyone else. If you’re going about your business every day and getting ready to come off the bench, and when you play, you play with intensity — you don’t sit around hoping someone gets hurt or someone plays poorly — that’s when you gain that respect and trust. It doesn’t have to do with how many at-bats you get or how many innings you pitch. It has everything to do with earning the respect and trust of your teammates.”
Six times Jay’s clubs have reached the postseason. That, several baseball people said, is not a coincidence.
“He’s not going to put up glamorous numbers,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon, who had Jay on his 2017 Cubs club. “He’s not the fastest runner. He’s not going to be the guy you want to be your centerpiece to build a team around. He’s better served on really good teams because he’s that piece that helps get you over the top.”
In any other year, teams would recognize how special a moment such as this is. The Giants have a special-edition double magnum of wine made for a player, and every player signs the bottle, and they have a clubhouse-only moment before the game in which the player gets to the magic number. Other clubs have champagne celebrations postgame.
That can’t happen this year, but it takes nothing from Jay’s achievement in getting there.
Nick Madrigal, Edwin Encarnacion exit with shoulder injuries for White Sox
The 23-year-old Madrigal left the game in the third inning after he was thrown out trying to get from first to third on a single up the middle, while Encarnacion left the game in the sixth inning after injuring his left shoulder on a swing in the fourth inning.
Manager Rick Renteria said both had soreness in their left shoulders and will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
The 23-year-old Madrigal is just five games into his major league career, hitting .294 with an RBI. He was selected by Chicago with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft after a standout collegiate career at Oregon State.
The 5-foot-8 Madrigal hit .311 with four homers and 55 RBIs in 120 games over three minor league stops last season, finishing the year at Triple-A Charlotte.
Encarnacion, 37, has a home run and 2 RBIs in eight games this season, hitting .200.
The White Sox also placed left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon on the 10-day injured list with shoulder soreness Tuesday. The injury caused Rodon to leave after only two innings Monday. Renteria says he’s optimistic Rodon will return before the end of the season.
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