Special Feature on Jorge Posada in Puerto Rico
By Alfred Santasiere III
July 18, 2015 — In late-June, I traveled to Jorge Posada’s hometown of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico to spend a day with the former catcher. My story on Posada’s upbringing will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2015 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.
There will also be a first-person story on Posada’s career in pinstripes in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine. Posada shared his experiences about his baseball career with me over lunch last winter in Miami, and that story will be out on the day the Yankees retire the catcher’s number and dedicate a Monument Park plaque to him.
While I’m proud of both stories, I consider the experiences I had with Posada in Puerto Rico and that story to be among my best.
On a hot and humid morning, I met Posada in the lobby of the hotel he was staying at, and he drove me to several of the landmark places from his childhood.
One of our first stops was Parque de Pelota de Isla Verde, a fenced-in baseball field in the Carolina neighborhood of San Juan. It was there, as a member of Casa Cuba — a social club that Posada and his family belonged to — that he played in his organized game of baseball when he was 9 years old.
When we got to the field, Posada walked across the dirt infield past the puddle of water near first base and over to the shortstop position — where he played when he was a kid.
“The thing I remember most about this field is the day I got my first baseball uniform,” Posada said from the red wooden bleachers behind home plate. “I was sitting right here when the coach walked over with a box in his hands and began to hand out our jerseys. They looked just like the old Texas Rangers uniforms. They were red and blue, and they said ‘Casa Cuba’ along the front.”
A little while later, we sat down for lunch at one Posada’s favorite restaurants, Ceviche House. During the meal, Posada spoke about the ways his father — a former baseball player in his native Cuba — instilled tough love and pushed him to the limit when he in his youth.
When Posada was about 8 years old, his father insisted that he learn to bat from both sides of the plate and that he only swing a wooden bat.
“He didn’t tell me that I was going to bat left-handed against righties until I started playing organized baseball,” Posada said. “I struck out and struck out and struck out. It was probably more mental because my swing was there, but it took me awhile to get the confidence I needed to have from the left side. It wasn’t easy at the beginning.”
Amid a long streak of consecutive strikeouts, Posada pleaded with his father to go back to his natural side.
“Without even thinking about it, he said no,” Posada said. “He told me that if I kept working at it from the left side, I would be fine. He always encouraged me to stay with it.”
After lunch, we drove to the house that Posada grew up in and where his parents still reside. Almost as soon as we walked in, the couple led us through their living room and dining room and into a sitting room in the back of the house.
That room is a temple to Posada’s professional career and specifically to his 17 seasons in pinstripes.
The white concrete walls are covered with photos of him celebrating championships, magazine articles and even his first Yankees Magazine cover. There is a bat rack behind the couch with one bat from each of the five World Series Posada won in New York. Sitting on a table next to those bats is the first of five Silver Slugger Awards the catcher took home during his career, and Posada’s locker nameplates from each of the five All-Star games he played in hang on another wall.
From that treasure trove of memorabilia symbolizing the catcher’s years in the limelight, we walked down the hall to a small bedroom that was Posada’s when he was growing up (see photo below).
Much of what was in that bedroom when Posada was growing up is still there. The twin bed that he fell asleep in night after night takes up about half the width of the room. Two shelves hang above a wooden dresser on the wall next to the bed, and they are packed with mementos from Posada’s youth, including a few baseballs and more than a dozen trophies from various baseball seasons and tournaments.
On the part of the ceiling above the bed, there are several tiny marks and grooves.
“Every night, when I would lie down, I would play catch,” Posada said. “I would pretend I was playing for a major league team. I tried not to hit the ceiling, but that was hard to do.”
At the end of the day, we spent time on the family’s backyard patio, and as the afternoon turned to evening, Posada’s father — the man who rarely showered his son with praise — reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
On the paper, there was a list of all the catchers in the Hall of Fame — and Posada. The players’ most important statistics — games played, batting average, home runs and RBI — were listed along with their rankings in each of those categories. Among the Hall of Fame catchers, Posada was in the middle of the pack or better in all of the statistical categories.
Posada’s father handed the paper to his son.
“The Hall of Fame is next,” the older Posada said. “You have the numbers, and what’s different from a lot of the other catchers on this list is that you have won five World Series and played in five All-Star Games.”
Posada smiled and then carefully looked over the paper, discussing the accomplishments of a few of his favorite catchers.
A little while later, the older Posada walked toward the refrigerator. As he was about to open it, he stared at a magnet on the refrigerator door. The magnet, which was produced by the Yankees, featured a photograph of the former catcher, and it read “Jorge Posada Day, August 22, 2015,” referring to the afternoon the team is scheduled to retire his number and dedicate a Monument Park plaque to him.
“It’s like a dream,” the older Posada said. “It’s like I’m walking on air. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
That touching moment made what was already going to be a great story, more special than I could have ever imagined it could be. I’m forever grateful to Jorge Posada and his family for that moment and several others that day.
— Alfred Santasiere III