There are two sides to New York Mets closer Jeurys Familia. The first side is the one you see when he trots out of the bullpen: calm, cool, smooth, stoic. When the final out is recorded, the second side of Familia appears: loud, proud, strong, vibrant. But these two personas are one in the same; all of these qualities make him the Dominican athlete who played a major role in the Mets’ journey to the World Series in 2015.
He wasn’t supposed to be the closer – that was Jenrry Mejia’s job – but when tasked to take the job, he was calm, cool, and became one of the top closers in the majors. Now, he hasn’t lost a beat, notching 24 saves, the most in the the league.
That’s the part everyone knows about. But what about the other part of Familia? What about the side of him that isn’t a pelotero? We caught up with Familia and asked him about his Dominican heritage, music, and his advice for younger peloteros. Familia even took the time out to pick his favorite salsa and bachata hits for us. Stream the playlist here.
What kind of swing are you going for when you climb onto the mound: bachatero, sonero, or merenguero?
Diablo! It is difficult because they are all linked, but I think if I had to say one, I really like bachata. When I go to the mound, I think what I do is enjoy the moment and do everything possible to put my team in position to win the game.
Bachata and vitilla [Dominican stickball] are two popular cultural expressions in the Dominican Republic. What similarities do you see between these two symbols of your country?
I think both are symbols of childhood. When you are a kid in the Dominican Republic, you learn how to play vitilla and learn how to dance bachata because you listen to it growing up. In our country, you can walk by a house and it will be blasting music at full volume, and you won’t call the police because you have a radio blaring music. Music represents us. With vitilla, I don’t know who invented the game in our country, but it helps a lot if you want to be a hitter.
Who revolutionized bachata in your opinion: Romeo Santos, Juan Luis Guerra or Blas Duran?
Ay Dios mío está difícil la vaina! [takes a breath] Well, I like Romeo Santos’ bachata. I think that he changed bachata in a way the whole world likes. You see the concerts and people go crazy. I prefer Romeo.
What’s the story behind your recording “Somos Familia” with Zacarías Ferreira?
The idea came up and my agents called to ask if I would be interested to work with Zacarías. I didn’t believe it, because he is a singer who you hear everywhere. And when I realized it was real, I was surprised. Zacarías is very humble, and he proposed to bring bachata here so people in the United States would know it, because bachata and baseball are almost the same (in the Dominican Republic). In my country, if you didn’t want to be a baseball player, you wanted to be a bachata singer, and I understood this when I met Zacarías. He helped me a lot and talked about his career. Baseball and bachata are very close.
What can Mets fans expect this fall?
I think this year we will have a better season than last year. There are still a lot of games to go, but we are very positive and we want to bring the championship to New York.
What advice would you give to young players who want to follow in your footsteps in the majors?
My advice would be to never stop, never settle, and to enjoy the game and not think of it as a job, because when you see it as a job, you put pressure on yourself.