By Rich Mancuso
A three -game sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves this past weekend did not prevent New York Mets relief ace Jeurys Familia from enjoying the rare day off on Monday. After getting some well needed rest and valuable time with his year old son he kept a commitment.
Hennessy V.S.O.P. Privilege, an All-Star program honored the Mets righthander for his record breaking season last year and continued success as an elite closer in 2016. The best selling Cognac in the world, champions exemplary athletes like Familia who “Never Stop, Never Settle” and possesses an uncompromising will to succeed.
So there was Familia in the chair waiting to meet and greet at the Cantina Rooftop blocks away from The Times Square area in Manhattan. Hennessy has had that long and outstanding history over the years of honoring Latino achievement in sports, film and music.
“Thank God to be where I am and to all the people who are here tonight,” he said.
Past honorees of the Hennessy All-Star Series, once known as Latinos in Baseball include New York Yankees Carlos Beltran, Yasiel Puig (Dodgers), Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, Sergio Romo (Giants), Jose Altuve (Astros), Hanley Ramirez (Red Sox), Carlos Santana (Indians), and Charlie Villanueva of the Padres.
They are all special in what they have accomplished on the field. The awards and honors for athletes in general have become a natural part of being where they are as role models in society, and Familia, the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic native can appreciate where he is now.
More so, last season when the Mets came up short to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, Familia had that early learning experience of success and the unexpected as his team was not expected to make that marvelous run in the postseason. The 26-year old, who signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Mets in 2007, appreciates every day of his stay in New York.
“I always working hard,” Familia said as best he could in English. When he first came to New York the Mets had expectations for him. There was very limited understanding of how difficult it is to make it as a ballplayer in New York City, and the language barrier was difficult.
Now he speaks English the best he can. And Familia has become one of the elite closers in Major League Baseball. His 22 saves lead the National League and he has not blown a game.
“Last year we played in the World Series and the Playoffs,” he said. “That helped me and my teammates to get better. This year they know how to control the emotions. They know how to make adjustments. That kind of team helps me a lot this year doing what I do so far.”
There are supposed adjustments in the plan when the Mets take the field again Tuesday night at Citi Field for two games against those same Royals, even as the Mets have the same record of last year at this juncture at 36-32. Manager Terry Collins hinted at lineup changes for a team that is not hitting. Familia knows that losing is a part of the game, as much as it it nice to keep winning.
“No pressure,” he said about the team not winning with high expectations. “We are going to have a bad week. Like TC,(Terry Collins) say, going to have games we can’t believe we lost. In this game it strengthens you forward.”
And for Familia, who enjoys every moment of being in New York, pressure of being a closer is just part of his job. Over the last year and because he has the role of being that closer, the fastball got stronger. He has developed a good sinker and the slider had made it difficult for opposing hitters to get on base.
Across town, the Yankees have Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, two parts of a Yankees bullpen that is also difficult to match. Then there is the legacy of Mariano Rivera who became the all-time saves leader in baseball during his tenure with the Yankees.
Familia, though not saying so, but to many, has that chance to soon be placed in that category of an all-time great closer and with the distinction of doing it with a New York team.
He said about that distinction with a smile: “I feel great because when I got to the big leagues I just want to help the team and move forward and get better and I like to compete.”
And if that means coming out of the bullpen gate when the Mets have a huge lead, or need someone to do mop up work, Familia is ready. Last year, he finished third in baseball with 43 saves and tied a club single season save record on the final day of the season in a 1-0 Mets win over the Nationals.
“I mean, I follow a lot of good pitchers in the major leagues,” he said, mentioning fellow Dominican and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez as one. “Think I’m hard working everyday. Don’t care if you had a bad day, bad game. Just try to move forward and stay positive and enjoy the game.”
The Hennessy event was one of those rewards. However, Familia will not forget where he came from. And playing in New York makes it more special, as he enjoys contributing and interacting with the huge Latino and Dominican community in New York.
“Love Latino community in New York,” he said. “Everything in my country I came from I see here. Kids don’t have no father or mother, no money to eat. I help them because I am a father now and I know how it feels.”
And Mets fans, as well as the Latino community are blessed to have him.