The San Diego Padres traded the beloved Yangervis Solarte on Saturday to the Toronto Blue Jays for two prospects.
The move was not a surprise, as the Pads have a backlog at second and third base stretching from here to El Paso, and our two best non-pitching prospects, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias, play SS/3B and 2B, respectively, and they could easily be here by late 2018 or the beginning of 2019. Something had to give. Solarte was a Padre man walking.
From the moment Yangervis showed up in San Diego waters he was a light in a sea of darkness.
Amid a 4-year run as a mid 70-win team with stingy Petco-driven pitching and a light banjo-hitting offense, the Pads were a big fat nothingburger, with little in the way of a past and a future nobody wanted to be a part of. They traded the since-returned Chase Headley to the Yankees for the then-rookie Solarte in the middle of the 2014 season.
Unbeknownst to most Padres fans to this day, Solarte made quite a name for himself in New York in his brief time there. He became the first player in the modern era (since 1900) to hit six doubles in his first seven Major League games. Yangervis Solarte is the only player to have ever done that in the history of the game (modern era). On April 17, 2014, he started a 5-4-3 triple play. In early May, Solarte briefly was atop the American League in batting average. He had come out scorching in his pinstripe debut. For a player with the team only half a season, he was a bit of a legend, even beyond Yankee broadcaster John Sterling’s singing aria home run call for him.
He cratered soon thereafter, however, hitting in the low .100’s the rest of May before being returned to the minors in June and then called back up two weeks later. On July 22 he was traded to the Padres while San Diego was on the road in Chicago. In his first at bat for the Friars he sharply singled to drive in a run and did the alligator clap at first base. He showed more enthusiasm in his first at bat than Headley had shown in his entire five and a half year career with the club. Winning is built on substance, not necessarily on enthusiasm, but as a fan it sure is fun to watch. Later in the game, if I recall correctly, Solarte drew a walk and sprinted down to first a la Pete Rose Lite, something he would do often in his Padre career. He had immediately become a sparkplug for the team desperately in need of one.
Solarte wasn’t just a rah-rah guy in the clubhouse. He performed on the field too. In four years with the Padres, he slashed .270 / .326 / .424 for an even .750 OPS, with an OPS + of 106. Not great, but good, but solid. Worth the price of admission. He is a switch hitter, which somehow added to his luster, and slugged 51 home runs overall in a Pad uniform, with his power numbers increasing every year. Yangervis loved to hit, and as he came across home plate on every one of his home runs he would do his alligator clap and point to the sky, a celebration and benediction of life for all to see. Yangervis exuded life on and off the field, and performed well in both dimensions.
Initially, he pointed to the sky most likely in deference to his God, or maybe to his family. But in 2016, tragedy struck, and a Padres’ fan love – and empathy – for Yangervis only deepened. His wife, Yuliette, mother of his three daughters, was struck by that despicable disease, cancer. Solarte and the team kept the news quiet until September of that year when he suddenly had to leave the team for “a family emergency” for an indeterminate period. Yuliette died from complications from that cancer during this time, with Solarte and their three daughters by her side. The whole Padre family was in shock and Yangervis returned to the team in the last week of the season, as that’s where he felt most at home. It was a terrible blow.
Otherwise, 2016 had been Solarte’s best year yet as a Padre, and the Padres rewarded him with a multi-year contract in the offseason. By baseball standards it wasn’t a King’s ransom, but by the Venezuelan-born Solarte’s standards it was, and he said he was thankful to God and the Padres to be set for life. Let’s pray he manages his money well. His 2017 was marred by some niggling injuries and was a little sub-par, but he did mash a career-high 18 home runs in 128 games, and even willingly played shortstop (quite well, actually) for a stretch, demonstrating not only his value to the team, but his willingness to be a team player – which he was throughout his Padre tenure.
At the end of last season, with potential future trades swirling in the air of PadreLand, Yangervis had this to say to the Union Tribune: “I want to stay here, I want to be here. But if they decide to trade me, I would just be thankful for the opportunity they’ve given me.” The Padres were the first real home for Solarte in the major leagues. They gave him his first extended shot. He made the most of it. He took the opportunity by the scruff of the neck, and with his limited ability, made sweet-tasting lemonade out of sour-sucking lemons. He played exuberantly, with a swagger, a child-like glee, and just enough of an attitude to be a winner. Once last year he was benched in the middle of a game for not running out yet another pop-out during a slump. He was heartbroken. Crestfallen. He knew he was better than that and had let the team down. He learned his lesson, made the adjustment.
I’ll probably remember Solarte for two unrelated things. You’ll probably remember where in the ninth inning of a tense game, Yangervis, playing third, raced over to the railings and jumped into the stands to snare a foul ball. He caught a fan, the ball, and a whole carton of nachos. The glove and ball were drenched in cheese. The umpire, having inspected the scene, signaled out. Solarte, a smirk on his face, emerged to a roar, having made the most important out of the game with a rare “cheeseball”.
My second memory is of Solarte in 2017, attempting to conduct interviews in English. A native-born Spanish speaker, Solarte clearly wanted to try using his new language skills and crossing over to the larger English-speaking market. I know what this is like. I played basketball in Costa Rica, and while my Spanish was good, being interviewed in Spanish was like being tortured by the old Spanish medieval church – difficult and bewildering – usually embarrassing. The Padre broadcasters were no help, asking convoluted questions of Solarte, rather than keeping them simple. Yet Yangervis persevered, did the best he could with a whimsical smile, and kept on marching to the tune of his own drummer. He did multiple interviews this way, each one a little better than the last. It shows something about the spirit of the man, as if we didn’t know already.
He was beloved from the moment he got off the plane in Chicago, and our love for him these last four years has only grown. He will definitely be missed – for his bat, his utility in the field, his enthusiasm on and off it, for his love of life. Love of life is important. It’s why many of us watch the game so intently. We either don’t have enough of it in our own life, or we are looking elsewhere to find it. Or both. Yangervis Solarte gave it back to us, in spades. Toronto is lucky to get him. I understand why it was time to trade him, and I 100% agree with it, but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting. I can only wish the man the best in everything, equally in baseball and with his family, and say: Gracias. Ya nos hace falta, and que le vaya bien.