Toroʼs feat de fies the odds

Rookie had to over come obscurity in Canada in order to get on any one’s radar in baseball

Revue de presse

By Hunter Atkins, Houston Chronicle, 20 sept. 2019

Abraham Toro, Astros de Houston

It was a moment that had existed only in their shared baseball imagination until it came to fruition Sept. 1.

With his ninth-inning home run in Toronto providing Justin Verlander the lead needed to seal the veteran’s third no-hitter, Astros rookie Abraham Toro knew he had ensured a legacy. No, not Verlander’s.

The French-Canadian-Venezuelan son of school teachers who left a Caracas barrio for a Quebec suburb had blossomed de spite a snowy up bringing stingy on baseball opportunities. Toro honed the sport’s fundamentals on a soccer field. He did not make the cut for Canada’s junior national team. He committed to junior college ball because it offered his only chance — if hewas lucky — to attract Major League Baseball scouts. He steeled a self-belief that to some was unjustifiable.

Toro, a 22-year-old utility fielder, struck the home run that validated every thing that had led up to it. He rounded the bases hooting and smiling. He be longed here.

Photo ci-dessus : Houston Astros third baseman Abraham Toro (13) celebrates with teammates in the dugout after scoring against the Seattle Mariners during the eighth inning of an MLB game at Minute Maid Park Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Houston. Toro hit a double to left field in the inning, which broke the team record for doubles, 11, in one game. (Photo: Godofredo A Vásquez, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer)

“He’s a big leaguer,” said Doug Toro, Abraham’s older brother by 12½ years. “It’s like a

Doug had dreamed up a moment like that for himself be fore wanting to live it out through his brother. The description of Abraham’s baseball challenges is the same as Doug’s.

Doug taught Abraham how to play on that soccer field, which also gave Doug a way to get the batting practice and grounders he lever aged for his own shot at the pros. The dents they put in the fences are still there.

He built up his brother’s confidence to over come the lack of exposure in a sports scene that centered on ice. He forever can feel like the two of them pulled of the improbable.

Now, Abraham Toro, whom the organization named its Minor League Player of the Year, has a fighting chance to make the Astros’ post season roster. He could offer manager A.J. Hinch flexibility in late-game situations. Toro bats from both sides, plays all in field positions but short stop and can be an emergency catcher (he caught 15 minor league games in 2017). Kyle Tucker, who is hit ting .295 with an .826 OPS in 44 at bats, stands in Toro’s way. Toro is batting .239 with a .753 OPS in 67 at-bats.

Toro recently minimized the leg kick in his batting stride, which helps him avoid pulling the ball, especially when batting left handed. He also simplified the data the team provides on what opposing pitchers are likeliest to throw him in every possible count. He had been crunching all the numbers during his at-bats and over thinking.

“You want your plan,” he said, “not his plan according to what he has.”

It took him “maybe a week” to come down from the no-hitter. Verlander, who extolled Toro after the game, took the rookie out to dinner.

“I got me a nice steak,” Toro said with a big smile.

The future Hall of Famer also gave Toro a Rolex engraved with “Thank you,” Verlander’s name and the box score. The memento might be priceless, or it some day could be worth more than the $250,000 signing bonus the Astros gave Toro when they selected him in the fifth round in the 2016 draft.

It has been a rich first three weeks in the majors for Toro. Sticking around for October, he said, “would be some thing awe some.”

Doug has thought further ahead: “That would change his career completely. It would give him such a vote of confidence, which everyone needs.”

It was easy for Doug to fall in love with baseball in Venezuela, where he saw Omar Vizquel and Andres Galarraga in the winter leagues. The Toros immigrated be cause Canada had better prospects — for jobs, not baseball. In Longueuil, a city across from Montreal and on the shore line of the Saint Lawrence River, unpasteurized chèvre was easier to find than Big League Chew.

“I was good enough to get drafted,” said Doug, who in his mid-20s batted .235 in 45 games of independent ball for Les Capitales de Quebec. “No body really goes and sees you play. You’re lost in Quebec.”

In the 6-1 Abraham, Doug found a two-inch taller and better version of himself. He trained his righthanded brother to switch-hit regularly at 6 years old, but Abraham was — and still is — so shy that he did not do it full time until a coach asked about it a decade later.

Exposure for local ballplayers remained meager. Without the show cases, travel teams and try outs that populate the United States and Latin America, the Toros, confident as they were, could not tell how the youngest son measured up. He missed out on the big gest stage young Canadians have available.

“If you want to get drafted, to get recognized or a scholarship, you have to make the junior nationals,” Doug said. “He wasn’t even invited. Can you imagine that?”

The pipeline was not completely dry. He played for Polyvalente Édouard-Montpetit High, the school of former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne and current Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. Seminole State, a junior college in Oklahoma that has produced 50 major leaguers, gave Toro the program he needed.

“His body changed like crazy,” Doug said. “This kid would lift weights and get bigger in his sleep.”

Abraham went from hitting homers occasionally to launching 20 by the end of his one season there. The Astros drafted him three weeks later. Area scout Jim Stevenson — a heralded gold miner who found Josh James and Ramon Laureano for Houston — had liked Toro’s line-drive ability from both sides.

Three years later, Toro took it to Toronto. At the family’s home 350 miles north of Rogers
Centre, his mother cried.

It astounds Doug to see his brother commingle with Jose Altuve and Verlander.

“I used to play with him,” he said, “and now he’s playing with these guys.”

Abraham wants to keep it that way. He knows he has to capitalize in pinch-hit at-bats and what ever starts Hinch may give him with nine regular-season games left.

“I want to be in this lineup,” Toro said. “I want to play with the best. How they play motivates the younger guys. If they can do it, we can do it.”

The odds against him are steep. General manager Jeff Luhnow has committed to few rookies.

Between 2015 and 2018, there were 27 players who made their bigleague debuts with the Astros. Only Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Chris Devenski, Cionel Perez and Myles Straw remain. (Lance McCullers Jr. likely would be in that group were he not injured.)

Toro already has reason to be proud of himself.

Players in a men’s recreational league in upstate Quebec reminisce about how they were Toro’s teammates or opponents. They used to be right there with him.

“I know how tough it is to make it from here,” Doug said.

He still is trying.

Doug, who is one year younger than Verlander, missed his brother’s homer when it happened.

He was “in the middle of nowhere,” he said, driving north to a stadium without fans. He had a men’s rec league game to get to.

Revue de presse publiée par Jacques Lanciault.

Remplis sous: Baseball Mots clés:
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