Former Yankee Jorge Posada Recalls His Obsession With Baseball in Puerto Rico


Jorge Posada, 44, was catcher for the New York Yankees from 1995 to 2011, when the team won five World Series titles. He is author, with Gary Brozek, of “The Journey Home: My Life in Pinstripes” (Dey St.). He spoke with Marc Myers of The Wall Street Journal.

Baseball was everywhere when I was a kid. I couldn’t have escaped it even if I wanted to. I grew up in Rio Piedras, a middle-class neighborhood of San Juan in Puerto Rico. My father was a professional baseball scout, so baseball practice, games and talk about major-league teams occupied all of my free time. Even our car smelled like baseball gloves.

My father, Jorge Sr., was tough love from the get-go. From the time I was born in 1970, he wanted me to be a ballplayer. To build my strength, he’d push me until I couldn’t do any more. During the school year, he had me focus on my studies, but in the summers he worked me hard.

My dad was shrewd about it. When I finished strenuous chores with him, like painting the house or moving heavy things, my reward was going to the nearby baseball field with him to hit and field balls. I couldn’t wait. It was better than going to Disney World. He’d say, “You do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” It didn’t take long for me to become obsessed with the sport.

We lived in a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house with 9-foot ceilings and a low roofline. Outside, I could jump up and grab the edge of the roof and climb up there. We also had a big backyard. That’s why my dad bought the house. He had intended to put in a pool but instead added to the house. We had a big mango tree out there and when he took it down, the yard became my baseball field. It was about 90 feet wide and 60 feet deep.

My small bedroom was all about baseball. Up on the wall I had posters of the Yankees’ Don Mattingly and George Brett of the Kansas City Royals, along with a photo of the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting lineup. My father scouted for the team in Puerto Rico. My trophies were on wood shelving, and my bike hung from the ceiling. I didn’t have a TV or an air conditioner. When I took a shower at night, I’d leave the cold water on for the last 10 seconds so I’d be cool in bed until I fell asleep.

When I was little, my father worked as a salesman for Richardson-Vicks and then Procter & Gamble after the company bought it. He would sell P&G products to large distributors and take me along so I could see how tough he was. He used to transform himself into the best friend of the person he was pitching. It was out of character for him to pal around like that. When I asked him about it, he explained it was part of his job, that sometimes you had to do things that might not reflect the real you to get things done.

What I remember most, though, are my father’s years as a baseball scout. He began on a part-time basis, first with the Yankees and next with the Houston Astros. Then in 1983 he remained with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was very good and always looking for what he called the “five tools”— arm, speed on bases, hit for average, hit for power and something extra, like instincts on the field.

Those are the things he worked on with me. He knew what it took to be a major-league player, and speed was No. 1. He always wanted players to be fast—able to run 60 yards in at least seven seconds. In my teens, that was my goal, with my sister, Michelle, keeping time. I marked off 60 yards with a spray-painted line on the street.

When I was nearly 17, I finally reached that goal. But I didn’t know it at first. After I did my run, my father told me I ran the 60 yards in 7.2 seconds. I said, “No way.” I thought I had beaten that time. Not until we were in the car did he tell me that I actually ran the distance in just 6.75.

Fortunately, I had a nurturing mother and grandmother who constantly pushed back on my father to ease up. I don’t know what would have happened without both of them acting as a buffer and bringing my father to his senses. But they weren’t always successful.

One day when I was 12, a truck dumped a considerable amount of soil on our driveway. It was for our backyard, to even out the field, and the pile came up to our roof. My father called me outside and pointed to a wheelbarrow and shovel. It was going to be my summer job to move it back there. My mother, Tamara, begged my father to lay off, telling him I was just a boy, but my father ignored her.

In the end, I finished the job in just a few weeks rather than all summer. My hands toughened up after holding the shovel and wheelbarrow handles, and the labor helped develop my muscles and my hands for holding a bat. After those weeks, I began to use my stubbornness to take on hard jobs and see them through without complaint.

Today, I live in a two-story, six-bedroom home near Miami along a canal in a gated community. We have a small yard that is a little bigger than the one at the Rio Piedras house. Now I’m retired—or rather, a taxi driver for our two kids. Each day, my wife, Laura, and I wake up and take our children to school before we head to the gym.

The best thing about my life now is not having a schedule and being at home to enjoy the things I missed as a child and while I was playing professional baseball. And no more cold showers. Our air conditioning is really amazing.

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