rafael alejandro

Going with the Flo

By Melissa Rodriguez

For most, a birthday is a time to celebrate with friends and family and maybe eat some cake. For Wilmer Flores, his birthday holds much more significance. Flores was born on August 6, 1991 in Valencia, Venezuela, but it was 16 years later, when he had a life-changing birthday.

This wasn’t a typical Sweet 16 celebration, but the beginning of the infielder’s professional career. Flores, a wiry youngster, sat inside Shea Stadium and signed a free agent contract.

“I flew up to New York to sign the contract and I got to come up with my dad for that,” recalled Flores. “The next day, my lawyer was able to show us around the city and we had a celebration dinner.”

A dinner that didn’t come without hard work.

“It was around 14 that I started getting serious” he said. “I would wake up at 5:30 a.m.; my dad would drive me to practice at a small academy with about 15 other kids. At noon, he would pick me up and drive me to classes. I would go to practice every single day.”

Flores had been playing baseball in Venezuela, where baseball is the most popular sport, since the age of four. Along with his siblings, Wilmer de Jesus, Wilmer Rafael, Ronny Alejandro and Carla Alejandra, Flores enjoyed rooting for the hometown team, Valencia’s Navegantes del Magallanes, one of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League’s leading clubs.

“Baseball is big in Venezuela, so I didn’t really follow any MLB teams,” Flores said. “The two most popular teams are Magallanes and Caracas. My team was Magallanes. I went to a lot of games and I grew up a big fan of Edgardo Alfonzo. I loved going to watch him play. ”

Whenever he wasn’t watching his favorite team play, a young Flores was honing his skills on the field and imitating his favorite player.

To start of his new life in the United States, Flores left behind everything he knew. The comfort of home and the care of mom were replaced by Kingsport, Tennessee.

“It wasn’t easy leaving home at that age. The hardest thing by far was being so far away from my family,” he said. “Of course, it was hard for my mom to see one of her boys go. She does everything for us. She was so happy at the same time. All of my family was so happy and so supportive of me pursing baseball.”

In addition to his many impressive physical talents, one of Flores’ greatest qualities is his mild-mannered personality, which has been a large part of his Major League success.

“He’s great, positive, just an overall good guy,” said Juan Lagares, “One of the most admirable things about him is how responsible he is about his work.”

While working his way through the minor league system, Flores was considered by many as one of the top prospects in baseball. However, several began to question whether the lanky, 6-foot-3 infielder had adequate defensive skills to make it in the big leagues. Flores responded by continuous hard work that earned the young infielder a pair of Sterling Awards, emblematic of the top player on his team. In 2009 and 2012, he was selected to play on the World Team at the All-Star Futures Game.

“Being a part of the World Team was a great. The first time I was just 17 and it was the closest thing I’d experienced to being in the Major Leagues. They were very special experiences.”

Five years after his first birthday surprise, Flores would experience another defining moment on his birthday.

After beginning the season at third base for the Mets’ Triple-A team in Las Vegas, he again began hearing murmurs about him.

“I knew people were talking about me and that I might get called up,” he said. “I just continued to focus on the job at hand.”

That August, the rumors proved true. Flores got the call.

“We were in Memphis and Wally [Backman] pulled me aside and told me. I was so excited to tell my parents,” he said. “I called them right away and then no one even answered! I finally got ahold of one of my brothers and was happy I got to tell someone. Turns out it was so late that my parents were already asleep.”

On August 6, 2013, Flores celebrated his 22nd birthday by making his Major League debut, in the Mets 3-2 win against Colorado.

“I didn’t have a great game. There wasn’t any cake or any family present since it all happened so quickly, but it was great way to spend my birthday,” he said. “It’s a day I will never forget.”

Flores began the year as the team’s starting shortstop and powered his way into the team’s record books, by become the first shortstop to slug eight or more home runs by the end of May. And by the end of June, a new challenge arose. Flores would be shifting positions – moving to second base.

“I will go wherever I’m needed,“ he said. “I’m happy to be in the lineup and I’m glad to help the team.”

Flores’ passion for the Mets was on full display for the world to see two days before the July 31st MLB trade deadline. Social media was buzzing with reports that the Mets were trading Flores to Milwaukee. Flores found out about the rumors while he was playing in the game - as did fans, who gave him a standing ovation in what they thought was his final at bat as a Met. Overcome with emotion, Flores was wiping away tears when he took the field the next inning.

The trade never happened - and Flores remained a Met and was serenaded with loud cheers and standing ovations the following games. Fans loved that Flores literally wore his emotions on his sleeve. And he delivered on the field too.

Two days after Flores thought he was traded, he hit is first ever walk-off home run to give the Mets a 2-1 win over the division-rival Washington Nationals at Citi Field. 

“Can it happen at a better time to a better person in a bigger situation than that?” Manager Terry Collins said that night. “It’s unbelievable.”

Flores has always demonstrated an ability to adapt to new situations. After moving to the U.S., the infielder adjusted to his new life by making use of the classes offered to players by the Mets and learning to speak English. He knows education has played an important role in his life.

This past May he visited students at P.S. 92, a school in Corona, Queens comprised mostly of Hispanic children, for the Mets annual “Reading Rally.” He spent an afternoon reading to a gym full of fourth and fifth grade students.

“I don’t think my English is great at all!” he said, despite his flexibility in both languages. “I do think it helped to start putting effort in at school from an early age. The Mets’ classes helped. I also like to think watching a lot of my favorite TV show, Friends, helped me learn. I made sure to always watch it in English.”

Flores keeps his Venezuelan roots close, heading back every winter to a popular Venezuelan vacation destination, Margarita Island. However, Flores doesn’t go down to enjoy the beaches, sand and sun.

“Every year since 2010, I head to play with the Bravos de Margarita, “he said. “The stadiums and clubhouses are not as nice as they are here, but I enjoy the extra time playing and I enjoy spending time with teammates down there. They ask me all about what it’s like to play in the majors, just how I used to do to others before me when I was a kid. It’s a very special feeling getting to be a part of that.”

When Flores finds the time to take a break from baseball he still keeps things simple.

“I enjoy just being in my family’s company,” he said. “If I’m alone, I enjoy a day at the spa. A massage, the pools, even a mani/pedi. The whole works, why not? I just want to relax.”

This year Flores’ birthday falls on an off-day for the team, so he doesn’t expect any baseball-related surprises. Instead, he has planned some quality family time.

“This year will be another great birthday because my mom will be with me to celebrate,” Flores smiled. “She’s going to meet me in Miami and we’ll get to enjoy the city together.”

The 24-year-old Flores has many birthdays to come, and, if his luck continues, many more life changing surprises in store.

Área de juegos, Conjunto Habitacional Unidad Independencia, San Jerónimo Lídice, Magdalena Contreras,  México, DF 1960 

Mural de mosaicos. Francisco Eppens Helguera 

Arqs. Alejandro Prieto Posadas y José María Gutiérrez Trujillo

Foto. Rafael Estévez

Play area, Independence Unit Housing Complex, San Jeronimo Lidice, Mexico City 1960

Mosaic mural. Francisco Eppens Helguera