NEW YORK — One of MLB’s top utility men was crafted in a Venezuelan river years ago.
The waterways of Libertador de Barinas are where he trained. Like eroding banks, the water shaped his work ethic. Ronald Torreyes would dash through the straits, dreaming of a chance at the big leagues.
His father and personal trainer, Alcides, came up with the idea. He hoped it would build Torreyes’ speed, but also his toughness. The elder was always the first to make his way from the shore to the water. He would wade in, ensuring the area was safe and void of submerged obstacles.
“He used to get to the beach really early and clear out any branches. If there were any fish or animals he would clear it all out,” Torreyes recalled through an interpreter in an interview with Sporting News. “The water would reach up to our knees and that’s where we would run.”
Torreyes and his father trained day after day growing up. All the while, Alcides, an amateur ballplayer, was instilling a drive that would eventually see the son’s dream come true.
“I can’t thank my father enough for all the hours and sweat and training we put into this,” said Torreyes, now 25 and with the Yankees. “Without him, for sure, there’s no way I could’ve made it to the big leagues.”
Making the majors took more than just running through water, though.
Signed by the Reds as a 17-year-old, Torreyes moved around quite a bit. At 5-8, 150 pounds, he was often overlooked.
Torreyes played for affiliates of the Reds, Cubs, Astros, Blue Jays and Dodgers before finally getting a taste of the majors with Los Angeles in 2015. He played in just eight games before landing in New York the following winter.
Even the path to the Bronx was winding — much like the rivers Torreyes used to run.
On Jan. 12, 2016, the Dodgers traded Torreyes to the Yankees. On Jan. 25, New York placed him on waivers. He was claimed by the Angels, but they ended up designating him for assignment two days later. Then, on Feb. 2, the Yankees brought him back.
“It was definitely a tough time for me, tough year for me, with all the trades and going from one team to the other,” Torreyes said. “But I always knew that if I kept working hard that someday I was going to have an opportunity to play.”
He got that shot with the Yankees, making their opening day roster last season. Now in his second year in New York, Torreyes has blossomed into a consistent, versatile and indispensable part of a team with its eye on the playoffs.
Considered a light hitter, Torreyes is batting .298 with 12 doubles, three homers and 36 RBIs in 292 at-bats. He’s even won New York a few games with the stick.
Torreyes was never supposed to play this much for the Yankees, but twice New York found itself without a choice.
When shortstop Didi Gregorius got hurt in the World Baseball Classic, there was Torreyes to fill the void. The same thing happened when Starlin Castro hit the disabled list with a hamstring issue on two separate occasions. Torreyes has also spent time at third, doing whatever is asked of him whenever it’s asked of him.
No matter where he plays, he doesn’t miss a beat defensively. No matter how often he plays, he doesn’t miss a beat offensively.
“It’s really valuable, really big, what he’s done,” Gregorius told Sporting News. “He gives you all his best every time he goes out there. That’s what’s really important, that’s what sticks out.”
In addition to his flexibility, Torreyes has also become a leader in the Yankees clubhouse in his own silly way.
He makes no effort to hide his stature, requiring assistance when high-fiving Aaron Judge, who’s 6-7. He dances with his fellow infielders. Sometimes he leaps over them. He jokes, he cheers, he enjoys himself.
Baseball is a game, after all.
“That’s just who I am and part of my personality as a person,” Torreyes said. “I’d rather laugh and enjoy the time that you have at that moment and try to translate that to your teammates. Sometimes they may be going through a rough time and if I can somehow put a smile on their face or give them some positive energy, well, why not? They’ve done that with me many, many times. I just like to have fun.”
My favorite GIF of the year so far, courtesy of Didi Gregorious, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Judge's son Ronald Torreyes pic.twitter.com/tEXiuwbAbi
— Kendall (68-68 ⚾️🔵) (@Seahawks_Fan95) June 12, 2017
His peers certainly appreciate the mindset.
“He’s a good teammate. He’s the same guy all the time. If you play good, if you not play good, he’s the same guy,” Castro told Sporting News. “It’s a really long season and we want to enjoy it the most we can. That’s one of the guys that always comes with the same mentality. Always laughing, always smiling.”
— Steve Finamore (@CoachFinamore) July 29, 2017
It’s not all goofing around for Torreyes, though.
When he’s not playing or practicing, he now has a son of his own to train. Moises is just 4 years old, but he’s already playing ball. Torreyes jokes about him learning multiple positions.
Torreyes’ father, meanwhile, despite coordinating his son’s training all those years ago — the running through rivers — has never seen Torreyes play in the majors in person.
“He’s afraid of airplanes,” Torreyes said, but the two talk regularly and the father watches on television whenever he can.
Some would call Torreyes’ time in New York surprising. He was an unknown when he made the team last year. This season he’s become an integral part of it. Few saw that coming.
Not Gregorius, though. The two played together on Cincinnati’s farm, so he knew what was on deck.
“Yes!” an excited Gregorius interjected mid-question when asked whether folks should’ve foreseen Torreyes’ play. “Yes, cause I know him. I played with him more when I was with the Reds, so yes. I know what kind of player he is when he gets the chance to play.”
A chance to play — that’s all Torreyes ever needed.
Yet six organizations passed on him before the Yankees finally gave him an extended look. Some players would feel slighted. Not him, though.
“It’s part of the business, being traded from one team to another,” Torreyes said. “When you go through things like that, especially in this sport, you have to stay strong mentally and you have to keep doing your work because you know eventually somebody will give you an opportunity.
“You have to be ready to perform.”