Many times sports figures are regarded as role models for society. It’s easy to see why. Their heroic accomplishments on the playing field or court speak volumes about how hard work and passion can lead to greatness. Unfortunately, some of the most talented and successful athletes conduct themselves in less than stellar ways in their personal lives. And then there’s Jorge Posada, a man who is an extraordinary role model both on and off the field.
As impressive as it is that Posada, the beloved New York Yankee catcher, was a five-time World Champion, a five-time All-Star player, and won five Silver Slugger Awards, the story of his upbringing and triumph over personal adversity and his philanthropic efforts make Posada a true superstar. Millions of Yankee fans all over the world followed Posada’s 17-year career as he earned the right to join the ranks of baseball greats. What few fans know is what it took for him to make it to the major leagues-and stay there. And now he is sharing his personal story with the world.
Posada was on a book tour stop at Books & Greetings in Northern NJ when OutlooK-12 had a chance to speak to him about his memoir, “The Journey Home: My Life in Pinstripes”(HarperCollins' Dey Street Imprint, $27.99; ISBN: 9780062379627). Out of pinstripes and in suit and tie, Posada showed a different side of himself that evening. In the place of the intense gamer who would find ways to “grind” out wins was a soft-spoken, respectful, old fashioned gentleman with an easy smile and firm handshake.
Considering the stories he tells about his upbringing in “The Journey Home,” his persona is not surprising. Posada’s “journey” is not just his migration to the Bronx from Puerto Rico, it is also
the story of his father’s daring escape from Castro’s Cuba. The “journey” is also Posada’s traveling through the challenges he faced as he was groomed to be a major leaguer. In “The Journey,” he offers an unexpected, behind-the-plate view of how his past and his father helped mold him for success on the Big Apple’s brightest stage.
Jorge’s father was determined to make him into a major league ball player. His dedication to
shape his son into a professional athlete made the senior Posada into a tough and unwavering task master. Young Jorge did not always understand or appreciate the hard work he was told to do. His father’s tactics were unconventional and rigorous from running timed,uphill 60-yard sprints in the hot Puerto Rican sun so that he could get his time under seven seconds and intense ping pong matches with his father who never let him win to hanging upside down on a pull-up bar to stretch his limbs and hard knocks boxing matches that tested his hand-eye coordination as well as emotional fortitude. From an early age each task, each chore, each challenge that Jorge faced was calculated by Jorge Sr. to instill in him the drive that young
Jorge would need to succeed in the Bronx.
While these lessons were difficult to fully grasp as a child, as an adult Posada came to appreciate his father more as a man and a mentor. And it was his father’s actions not words that made the biggest impression on young Jorge. “My father never had to say anything to me,” Posada told OutlooK-12 magazine. “I saw how hard he worked every day. I learned from that example. He influenced me to develop the discipline that I needed to succeed.”
And succeed he did. Posada went on to become part of the Core Four (along with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera) as a vital component to Yankee teams that rank among the greatest in the franchise's history. The “journey” had its share of roadblocks along the way that threatened to derail his dream, including suffering a devastating injury early in his minor league career and having to learn a new position— catcher—after having trained in
the infield his entire life. But the work ethic his father instilled in him allowed Jorge to push through the obstacles and become a New York Yankee.
Posada also credits his mother’s influence in making him the successful man he became. “My mother always taught me to be a gentleman,” Posada also told OutlooK-12. “I was also encouraged to be humble. My mother and father were a great combination for me. My parents made my successes possible. They raised me in a way that I became an overachiever, and that made it possible for me to have the accomplishments I have had in life.”
Posada’s resume reads like that of an overachiever. Debuting in the major leagues in 1995, Posada contributed to the Yankees’ late-1990s dynasty that won four World Series championships in five years. In 2003, he tied Yogi Berra’s record for most home runs by a Yankee catcher (30), and ranked third in the American League Most Valuable Player selection. In 2005, he recorded his 1,000th career hit with a seventh-inning double in an August 20 win at Chicago. At the start of the 2010 season, Jorge made his 11th straight Opening Day start at catcher, the most consecutive starts by a Yankee at catcher on Opening Day since Thurman Munson.
It is not surprising that Posada is passing along a strong work ethic and the family values he learned from his own mother and father to his offspring. He and his wife, Laura, have two children, Jorge Luis and Paulina. It is important to Laura and Jorge that their children grow up to be self-reliant and proactive adults. Posada explained to OutlooK-12, “I tell my children 'stand up for what you believe. Stand up for yourself.' This is what my wife and I try to teach them.” In fact, the Posada family unit is strong and closely knit and has stood together through good times and tough times. One of the hardest times was when Jorge Luis was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a congenital birth defect that requires several surgeries to correct
the condition. As a result, in the fall of 2000, the Posada family created The Jorge Posada Foundation which promoted awareness of craniosynostosis and provided emotional assistance to families with children affected by this condition through its Mentors Program.
There’s an old saying that “men are judged by the company they keep.” If so, Posada reputation is unblemished. In “The Journey,” he discusses his close friendship with Derek Jeter who served as his best man and was the first person (outside of family) whom he told about his son’s illness. He also details the close bond he shared with his ‘father on the field’ Joe Torre and the special relationship they developed during his little Jorge’s early battles. And he spoke about the strong ties he developed working behind the plate with some of the greatest pitchers to ever take the mound like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and numerous others.
With the retirement of Derek Jeter last year, the Core Four now belong to Yankee history,
but in 2012 when Posada had his emotional press conference to announce his retirement, he
spoke about what his “journey” from Puerto Rico to the Bronx has meant to him and his family.
“I grew up in front of the fans, my teammates. Playing for the New York Yankees has been an
honor. I could never wear another uniform… I will forever be a Yankee.” •