Willy Taveras has played in the World Series twice. He had a 30-game hitting streak with the Houston Astros in 2006. In 2005 he was second in Rookie of the Year voting. He set a Colorado Rockies club record with 10 at-bats in a single game (22 innings at the San Diego Padres in 2008). He led the major leagues in stolen bases (68) in 2008 and led the National League in bunt hits (24) that year.
After playing for four Major League teams (the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals are the other teams) and racking up all those records and kudos, one has to ask why, at age 37, is he playing ball for the Sugar Land Skeeters in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball?
“To be around the guys and be able to have my family around and playing baseball, I can’t buy that, even if I have all the money in the world,” he said. “We’re making the best out of the opportunity and at the same time feel very blessed to still be in a baseball uniform.”
A native of the Dominican Republic, Taveras grew up loving and playing baseball.
“In the Dominican, baseball is a religion; everybody loves it,” he said.
He loved watching players like Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. and always dreamed of playing in Major League Baseball. That dream came true on Sept. 6, 2004, with the Astros. He started in center field for the Astros his rookie season in 2005, the same year the Astros went to the World Series the first time. He was traded to Colorado at the end of the 2006 season and the next year with the Rockies went back to the World Series. Although he never won a title, he still counts being there as a career highlight.
Since his time in the majors, Taveras has played in the minor leagues and Mexican leagues and considers himself fortunate to still be playing the game he loves and getting paid to do it.
“I got to the big league at a young age and things have changed now. It’s very hard to stay in the big league,” he said. “You have to perform well according to what they’re looking for … Big league is hard and to be able to stay there is even harder. I feel like I give it my best and of course, everybody wants to play 10-15 years but it’s not always like that. We are playing right now, we have the uniform on and I’m very blessed.”
This is Taveras’s second stint with the Skeeters. He was with the team in 2015. He came back in 2017 for spring training but didn’t make the final roster. This year he was brought in as a replacement after MLB teams starting buying up players contracts at a record pace.
“We’ve had 14 guys sign MLB contracts so we’re looking for guys,” said Skeeters Manager Pete Incaviglia. “He was actually going to help out another team and I thought it was kind of a great fit for us with Willy living here and being the type of person he is, the professional he is, it’s a great fit and he’s played well. He’s done a really good job for us.”
One of the things Taveras really appreciates is being able to bring his own son, Willy Jr., to games and to the clubhouse.
“When I was in Houston I was very young. I remember (Craig) Biggio’s kid (Cavan Biggio), who is now with the Blue Jays, being around in the clubhouse. He was always around my locker,” Taveras said. “I can see my son, too, being around the players. That’s something that unless you play baseball, no kid will experience that. You have to be playing baseball for them to be in the clubhouse with the rest of the players. For him and for me it’s huge for him to see that.”
Although Taveras admits he’d welcome the chance to play in the majors once more time, he remains content to play in Sugar Land. He lives in Houston with his wife and children, so they can watch him play on a regular basis. He is a U.S. citizen now, although he still visits the Dominican Republic on a regular basis and still has family there.
“There’s a lot of learning here, a lot of experiences because you really have to love the game to come and play here because the salary is tough and the travel is tough. There’s nothing easy about baseball. The easy part about baseball was playing, and that’s very hard, too,” he said.
High Point Rockers traded pitcher Daniel Gibson to Sugar Land Skeeters for a player to be named later. The Skeeters signed free agent pitchers Nick Rumbelow and Matt Ramsey and infielders Javier Betancourt and Blair Beck. They released pitchers Roy Merritt, Jean Machi and Cesar Cabral.
The Skeeters hit the road for seven games, the first four against league-leading Long Island Ducks and the last three at the New Britain Bees. Following the all-star break, the Skeeters return to Constellation Field six games against the Ducks starting July 12. The game on July 12 is Christmas in July and features a Swatson bobblehead giveaway. The next night is Parrot Head Night featuring a team jersey giveaway.
Skeeter of the Week
Denis Phipps leads the Skeeters and is tied for third in the Atlantic League with 13 home runs. He homered in back-to-back games and has an extra-base hit in four of his last five games. Phipps has already surpassed his 2018 home run total in just 54 games after hitting nine home runs in 98 games last year.
Atlantic League standings
Wins – Losses – Games back
Sugar Land Skeeters 33-31-0
York Revolution 30-34-3
Lancaster Barnstormers 22-39-9.5
S. Maryland Blue Crabs 22-41-10.5
Long Island Ducks 38-24-0
Somerset Patriots 37-25-1
High Point Rockers 37-27-2
New Britain Bees 32-30-6
Rockers 6, Skeeters 0
Rockers 6, Skeeters 2
Rockers 9, Skeeters 1
Rockers 13, Skeeters 3
Skeeters 6, Rockers 3
Skeeters 2, Rockers 1