When Christian Vazquez was promoted to the big leagues in July 2014, he thought it was the first year of many to come. So the young Puerto Rican catcher was devastated when, less than a year later, he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2015 season. Now back and helping the Red Sox prep for what he hopes will be a long playoff run, he spoke with Marly Rivera about playing with his fellow Puerto Ricans and learning from Hanley Ramirez.
What does it mean for you to be healthy and able to contribute to this team, on the verge of securing a place in the playoffs?
I'm so happy to be 100 percent healthy. I came back from a very significant surgery and last year was very difficult for me. It was a year of gaining experience, of learning about my body, how to work after the surgery. But what's important now is that I'm back here and I'm healthy, thank God. The team is playing really well. We are about to make it to the playoffs. And that's the goal, to stay healthy and keep on working hard.
What was it like in 2015 to learn that you needed Tommy John surgery?
It was difficult. I did a good job during my rookie season in 2014 and in 2015 I was going to play every day; I earned the job as an everyday catcher. Having that accident in spring training was a very difficult thing to swallow. It was very sad for my family; they were all so happy that I was going to play every day in the big leagues with this team ... rooted in so much history. But, as I said, last year was a year where I learned from experience. In 2015 I learned a lot by sitting in the dugout, listening to everyone about how the game is played, about doing those little things in the game, and it has helped me a lot.
What was your greatest lesson?
I think the most important thing I learned was to take care of my body; to eat healthy. In the offseason you have to prepare well because this is a very long season. So it's really hard to be out of shape heading into spring training and starting from scratch. It's very difficult to have a good season (if you do that). I think it helped me prepare better physically to get ready for the long season we have to play.
How much of an inspiration did you draw from seeing a group of young Puerto Rican players like you do so well in the playoffs and World Series last year?
It was really nice to see the guys there. We come from an island where right now criminality is high, and for them to see those young players come up and succeed, coming from the island, and representing the island giving a hundred percent. It was really nice to see three Puerto Ricans in the World Series last year; I was really happy for them.
With the way the Indians, Astros and Cubs are playing, it's likely you'll face at least a few of them in the playoffs. Do you guys talk about that and keep in touch?
Yes, when I was there in Cleveland we talked a lot; also with Javy (Báez) when (the Cubs) came here. It was really nice to play against him. I am a reserved person. I don't like to bother the guys too much. And we have a lot of things to do. So I don't like to be a bother, but I always wish them well. When I see them, I always go say hello. I play winter ball with those guys in Puerto Rico and we have a good time over there. They're playing some incredible ball, Cleveland, Chicago (Houston). I'm really happy for them.
What does that say about the state of Puerto Rican baseball?
I feel very proud. I love watching Puerto Ricans improving and doing well. It's really nice to see Puerto Rican players returning to the top level we had in the past, in the times of Iván Rodríguez, Igor (González); all those guys. Now we are getting recognition in baseball once again.
Who has been the teammate that has helped you the most to get back to top form?
Hanley (Ramírez) has helped me a lot this year. Hanley has always been there for me. When we are in the gym we talk a lot; we're always together in the gym. Every day I have to work on my hitting, he's always there helping me. He really has been a great push for me this year by having his support, the support of a veteran player like him, who has played many years in the majors. He has hit a lot, and he's had injuries like me. I'm really grateful for him.
Hanley has told me that he embraces the opportunity and responsibility of being a leader, but that he prefers to fly under the radar.
He works more with you on an individual level. If he has to tell you something, he pulls you off to the side and talks to you, but he does it well. He always tells you the truth no matter what, and that's the most important thing. I really believe he took the torch from David (Ortiz), but David did it more toward the whole group. I'm really grateful.
How difficult has it been to work with the starting rotation this season, with all the changes?
In baseball there are always ups and downs. Right now they're doing a tremendous job; the bullpen, too. The starters are doing a tremendous job. They are getting far into games, which is what's important, and I'm really happy for them.
Looking back at the last Red Sox championship in 2013, do you think this team has what it takes to get that World Series ring?
Of course. Of course. Yes. We have a tremendous team; lots of young players with tremendous talent, such as Mookie Betts, (Andrew) Benintendi. I see this team getting far into the playoffs. And that's our goal. The important thing is to be united as a team, as a family and play the game with passion. And to have fun, which is the most important part.