When looking at Javier Baez’s remarkable journey to baseball stardom, it is evident his passion for the game strives from his family.
Baez, the star middle infielder for the Chicago Cubs, was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, where he spent the first 12 years of his life. He moved to a small town in North Carolina and then shortly after to Jacksonville, Fla., with his mother, Nelida; his older brother, Gadiel; and his younger sister, Noely, in search for a better life.
Baez’s father, Angel Luis Baez, had died a year earlier after falling and hitting his head during a landscaping job; and Noely was in need of better health care due to her birth defect spina bifida, in which a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly.
In Puerto Rico, Baez and his two older brothers became familiar with baseball through their father, who heavily influenced their interest in the sport. In a tribute to their father’s death, the three of them got identical tattoos of the Major League Baseball’s logo.
Noely lived to be 21 years old. She was one of the biggest reasons Baez wanted to play baseball at a professional level – so he could take care of her. Noely died early 2015, but not before getting to witness Baez’s major-league debut in Denver in 2014.
“She was my motivation for everything. And she understood baseball,” Baez shares in an interview with ESPN. “She would go crazy every time I had an at-bat.”
Baez got the Cubs’ attention when he played for his high school’s baseball team, at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville. In 2011, the Cubs selected Baez with the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. According to The New York Times, Baez was given a $2.625 million signing bonus, in which he used to buy a customized minivan that would better accommodate Noely, who used a wheelchair.
Baez began his professional career by playing shortstop for the Arizona Cubs in the minor leagues. Three years later, the Cubs promoted him to Triple-A Iowa, where they transitioned him during spring training to second and third base to increase his versatility.
On August 5, 2014, the new Cubs second baseman hit the game-winning home run in his major league debut against the Colorado Rockies, making him the 12th Cub to hit a home run in his first major league game since 1914.
Shortly after his grand entrance, sidelined with a thumb injury and too many strikeouts led Baez back to the minors. Many of his career plate appearances at the time, consisted of him swinging at everything resulting in a poor job of making contact.
But the Cubs believed in Baez’s potential and acknowledged his rookie mistakes were not going to define what this 23-year-old was capable of.
Baez soon became a game-changer for the Cubs nearing the 2016 postseason, which included him stealing home in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers – a first for the Cubs in the postseason in 109 years.
“He is so exciting to watch,” Jorge Mora said, a life-long Cubs fan. “You can’t take your eyes off him. Anything can happen.”
Mora describes Baez is his favorite Cubs player because he’s a great player all-around, defensively and on the plate.
“His electricity and passion come off very Puerto Rican,” Mora said. “He is daring, and his style in the game reminds me of the unique qualities of my Boricua heritage.”
Baez certainly radiates his love for his native land. Soon after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, as Baez was the only Puerto Rican player on the Cubs roster, he was honored with a street sign named after him in Humboldt Park – a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago – near a replica of Wrigley Field known as Little Cubs Field.
25th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado and Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled “Javier ‘Javy’ Baez Way” along West Luis Munoz Marin Drive.
During the ceremony, Emanuel said young kids in the city of Chicago are growing up saying, ‘I want to be like Javy.’
“Javy’s name at Little Cubs Field will forever be a positive reminder to our youth how to raise above adversities and achieve personal greatness,” Emanuel said.
Baez also represented Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in March of 2017.
Only 32 games in this season and Baez has showed Chicago his exciting potential fans know and love. With 32 RBI’s (runs batted in), 10 home runs, 3 stolen bases and a .289 batting average, there is no stopping him. Baez is only getting started.
“Jav-y! Jav-y! Jav-y!” will be the daily occurrence this summer at Wrigley Field.