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Jose Trevino and the magic of baseball

Stories like Jose Trevino’s are what makes baseball such a special game.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

With the 186th pick in the 2014 Amateur Draft, the Texas Rangers selected 21-year-old third baseman Jose Trevino out of Oral Roberts University. Despite splitting time at second base, third base, and catcher in rookie ball, he transitioned to full-time catcher in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. He showed some potential on both sides of the plate in A-ball, but struggled mightily to hit in both Double-A and Triple-A. He did, however, become known for his defensive prowess during this time, leading to his major league debut in 2018. Unfortunately he appeared in just three games before undergoing a shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his season.

He finally cracked the big league roster on a semi-regular basis at the end of 2019, when he appeared in 40 games. Once again, he excelled behind the plate but left a lot to be desired with the bat. He saw his most playing time at the major league level with Texas in 2021, where he appeared in 89 games. As is the theme of this quick little career summary, Trevino once again made a name for himself as a defense-first catcher who essentially provided nothing with the bat. In other words, he was the prototypical backup catcher.

After an injury to offseason addition Ben Rortvedt forced New York’s hand, they dealt a once-promising arm in Albert Abreu and Robby Ahlstrom, their seventh round pick from the 2021 draft, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Jose Trevino. At the time, it was pretty clear what the plan was: let Trevino back up Kyle Higashioka until Rortvedt was healthy, at which time Trevino would likely be stashed in the minors. After all, despite a very strong defensive profile, he had posted a meager 66 wRC+ in 156 career games prior to coming to New York. Nothing really indicated that he was starting catcher material.

On Friday night, after a laborious 1-1 game against the lowly Chicago Cubs entered the bottom of the 13th, Trevino stepped up to the plate in place of Higashioka, who had gone 0-5, with two outs and runners on second and third. For the second time in just over two weeks, Trevino hit a walk-off single at Yankees Stadium. And, for the second time in just over two weeks, the walk-off win was a special one for Trevino.

On May 24th, Trevino hit his first walk-off hit for the Yankees in a dramatic game against the Baltimore Orioles. After the game, amidst an outpouring of emotion that is not exactly characteristic for the Yankees, Trevino acknowledged that May 24th was his late father’s birthday. Similarly, Friday night’s walk-off win came on his son’s fourth birthday. And, if we go even further back to his time with the Texas Rangers, his first career walk-off hit, which happened in a dramatic four-run, ninth inning comeback against the Colorado Rockies, was a two-run single that just so happened to occur on his first Father’s Day as a new dad. I am fully aware that coincidences exist and all that, but these stories are simply remarkable footnotes in an otherwise, at least up until this year, unremarkable career.

In 39 games with New York this season, Trevino has turned it all around. He is slashing .309/.356/.505 with a .375 wOBA, and 148 wRC+*. Thanks to his incredible work behind the dish, along with his excellent play with the bat, he has already posted 1.7 fWAR. For context, his career fWAR (including 2022) to this point is 2.4. He just matched his career high home run tally of five (despite having nearly 200 fewer at-bats) last night, he’s posting a career high walk rate and career low strikeout rate, he’s been a positive baserunner for the first time in his career, he’s well on his way to having his best defensive season yet, and he finds himself on the All-Star ballot. That’s not bad for a catcher who came to the team in what many perceived to be a nothing deal.

I’m not here to advocate for Trevino to be made this team’s starting catcher—Peter’s already done that expertly and I think we can all agree that it’s something that should’ve happened a long time ago—but I am here to argue that stories like Trevino’s are what makes baseball such a special game. On top of the underdog narrative that will likely always follow him and the emotional walk-off wins that somehow keep coinciding with significant life events, it also came out a little while ago that Trevino’s father, who passed away five years before he reached the majors, raised him to be a diehard Yankees fan, and that playing for his childhood team had been a lifelong dream of his. In short, Lindsey Adler put it best when she tweeted this last night:

As a young person growing up in Canada, I dreamed about playing for the New York Yankees every single day. Whether I was pretending I was Bernie Williams while playing pickle with my neighbors or demanding that my team let me claim the number two jersey every year or trying (and failing) to mimic Mariano Rivera on the mound, everything I did and imagined involved playing for the Yankees and doing exactly what Jose Trevino is doing right now. To me, this is what makes Trevino’s story so special: he’s just another fan who happens to have gotten the shot we all dreamed of as kids, and he certainly hasn’t thrown it away. Sure, that’s a highly romanticized and watered down version of his career to this point, but, as much as I love the stats and the game itself, it’s stories like these that keep me coming back to baseball year after year.

Much like Nestor Cortes’s run last season and into this season, Jose Trevino’s success seems to have come out of nowhere, and a lot of fans, myself included at times, have been left to wonder whether this level of success is sustainable or not. While I suppose that is a legitimate question, I’m at the point with Trevino where I don’t particularly care. He has shown so much humanity and played with so much emotion that all I want is for him to succeed, whether he continues to or not. I don’t think I remember liking a new Yankee this much this quickly, but Trevino has transformed himself from last minute deal to overwhelming Yankees fan favorite in no time, a situation he envisioned for himself as a kid playing in the yard with his father. To me, that right there is the magic of baseball.