Andrew Velazquez was a teenager in the Bronx, NY, when he reached a crossroads in life, with one track heading toward a potential future in football and the other down a potentially devastating path.
If the kid who grew up to be this year’s Angels shortstop, a defensive little whiz who changed the inside with his great play, didn’t see the whole story clearly at the time, his father made the story .
Kenneth Velazquez grew up in the South Bronx, in Moore Houses projects on East 149th Street and Jackson Avenue. He spent 20 years in the New York Police Department, working covertly in Narcotics during the crack-cocaine epidemic and as a detective in the 42nd Field near Yankee Stadium.
The summer when Andrew turned 14, Kenneth saw his son leave basketball – skipping practices with his youth team, refusing to try New York City – based Gothams travel ball program, – and towards the temptations which he saw destroyed so much. saolta.
“He wasn’t running on the streets, but he was hanging out with people he didn’t normally hang out with, or with kids who were turning the wrong way,” Kenneth said. “I was a policeman. I knew it.
“So I said to him, ‘Those children are not good. You should be clear from them. But I’m going to give you the leash. You go and find out what you want to do in your life. ‘ ”
A few weeks later, while driving in the family car, Andrew told his father that he wanted to play travel ball, “and since then, his effort has been one thousand percent,” said Kenneth. “When he decided this was what he wanted to do with his life, he was not relentless.”
Velazquez carried that work ethic to high school at Fordham Prep – alma mater of Hall of Fame field player Frankie Frisch and Vin Scully – and for an 11-year professional career spanning six organizations and 10 minor league leagues, one stop but a reminder. with his hometown of the New York Yankees, and finally has a draw in Anaheim.
Velazquez spent parts of four seasons, from 2018-21, in the major leagues with Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Baltimore and New York. He lived his childhood dream by playing 35 games for the Yankees last summer, starting with 20 of them at shortstop, the site of his childhood idol, Derek Jeter.
But when Velazquez returns to the Bronx this week with the Angels, who open a three – game series against the Yankees of the East American League on Tuesday, he will be a great league starter, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and a son who is still grateful to his parents allowed him to choose his own destiny.
“I was friends with some kids who were doing drugs and stuff, some of whom eventually died, but I didn’t mean that,” Velazquez, 27, said of those disturbed teenagers. “My dad grew up in the projects and was a police officer, so he might see the beginning.
“It’s so scary for a parent, they were praised for letting me make the decision, because at one point I probably deserved a donkey puck. They were kind of like, ‘Do you want to do that? You are alone. ‘ We were getting to the point where they might have to point me out. But I made the right decision. ”
The Angels agree. The 170-pound, 170-pound Velazquez may not be in place on the plate, but he’s changing game on defense from a triple A revocation in early April to replace injured David Fletcher.
Velazquez entered Sunday’s game against Toronto to save eight defensive runs, according to Sports Info Solutions, ranked second among major league shortcuts and a massive upgrade to last year’s shortstop, Jose Iglesias, ranked last among the short stops with at least 500 innings.
Velazquez has made diving stops on land and drives line left and right. It has started and turned many double plays. He’s on the ground backhanded in the hole and, carrying his momentum towards the outside pitch, threw it far ahead. He is far left to groundbreakers and made a strong throw across the body at first. He is sprinted into the outdoor park to catch popups.
When Washington defeated May 8, Velazquez, located on the side of the second base of the bag, went up in the middle to stop base-loader Juan Soto, who scrambled to his knees and made 12-feet, around the back. pass to second baseman Tyler Wade for the out, save a run.
“If this guy starts hitting, no one will be able to afford him,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after that game. “I mean, it’s so good on a shortstop.”
Velazquez was not always so good. He grew up parking on troubled Bronx grass fields, including one at Macombs Dam Park, across the street from the old Yankee Stadium.
“He was scared of those areas,” Kenneth Velazquez said. “He was hit by a man of between 150 and 200 men, and I thought he was going to cut off his head. They were all bad hops. ”
These surfaces were an upgrade from the public park across the street from Velazquez’s house in the Morris Park section of the Bronx.
“There was a concrete softball field, and I used to dive on it when I was a kid,” says Andrew. “We got it wherever we could.”
Velazquez was an agile and fast-paced teenager, with a strong arm and a quick bat, and his coach Luis Santos and former minor league player Rich Almanzar, both Dominican Republic who worked with New City prospects, improved. -York.
However, Velazquez did not start at Fordham Prep until his junior year and did not play shortstop until he was senior. He played an outstanding performance at a tournament in Georgia before his senior year – Velazquez 14 for 16 and played stellar defense – put him on the radar of college scouts and coaches.
Velazquez turned down a scholarship to Virginia Tech to sign $ 200,000 with Arizona, which selected him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft.
Polished attitude, Velazquez did not. There was so much movement in his hands and hands as he went underground in the Arizona rookie league that summer that the Diamondbacks instructor started calling him “Pulpo,” the Spanish word for octopus.
This was abbreviated to “Squid,” and the nickname was affixed. The tentacle-like hands and arms are silent over the years, however, so much so that his Angels colleagues wore T-shirts on Sunday that said: “70% of the world is covered by water. The rest is covered by Squid. ”
“He’s always at ease, he’s always very calm, under control,” said first baseman Jared Walsh. “He doesn’t look jumpy in the park. You look at him, and he lets the ball come to him. It’s very smooth. ”
The Velazquez has a mixed switch in a slightly bigger offense to go with his slick fielding, batting .286 (18 for 63) with two homers, three doubles and eight RBIs in 18 games from May 9 through Saturday to raise his average from . 131 to .210 before going 0 for 5 on Sunday.
“Just trying to strike more strikes,” Velazquez said. “It’s easier said than done.”
Maddon has said Velazquez’s glove will play no matter how he hits. When Velazquez was battling .130 in early May, Maddon said, “I don’t care, because he was a huge influence on the game out there.”
Security will not change its first starting position in the big league Velazquez approach. He played too many minor league games and was released and traded too many times to be comfortable here. He did not even roster the Angels’ opening day. His car was shipped to Southern California a few weeks ago.
“I heard Aaron Judge say something last year, that we are all fighting for a job every day,” Velazquez said, referring to the Yankees slugger. “It simply came to our notice then. Going up and down many times will make you humble. I still have options. Just when you think, ‘I’m here,’ that’s when they say, ‘Okay, we’re sending you down.’ ”
Velazquez played the same in his brief stint with the Yankees last season, battling .224 with six RBI, an experience he described as “surreal, like a dream come true, the culmination of everything I did in advance to reach that moment. ”
But when shortstop Gleyber Torres returned from injury, Velazquez went to the bench. Velazquez was not protected on the roster of 40 men after the season, and the Angels demanded him for a waiver last November.
How exciting it was for Kenneth Velazquez, a lifelong Yankees fan who works as an assistant baseball coach at High St. Ramon in the Bronx, and his wife, Margaret, a retired school teacher, see their son in Yankees pinstripes, he will. he will be so happy to see him return home as a major league final this week.
Whether Velazquez plays dazzling defensive play or delivers a clever beat, his presence in the Yankee State is further proof that his parents ‘independent approach during Andrew’ s formative years, as difficult as it was at the time, was the right one.
“We trusted our son and raised him to make the right choices, but you keep one eye open,” Kenneth Velazquez said. “You do not want to lose your child on the streets. He was tempted. He saw it. He did not like it. This is what he wanted, and he set his mind to it. This has been his dream since he was a child. “