Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 11, 2014

Almonte brings New York state of mind to Bowen Field

BLUEFIELD — It’s quite a long way from Queens to Bluefield. For Blue Jays centerfielder Josh Almonte he has made his way from the New York borough to Nature’s Air Conditioned City via a stop in Florida, in the Gulf Coast League.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Almonte came to the United States at age 5 and though he lived in Queens, home to the New York Mets, he became a fan of the team in the Bronx, the Yankees.

“I always got messed with, being a Yankees fan. When I first came here I actually lived with my aunt. She and my uncle were Yankees fans, so that was the first team I was introduced to. I didn’t know anything about the Mets until years later when I started knowing about teams. I just got stuck with the Yankees, I guess,” Almonte said.

The Dominican Republic has produced numerous great baseball players over the years. Almonte suggested a reason why major and minor league rosters are full of players from the Caribbean nation.

“It’s because all the guys do down there, all year round, is play ball,” Almonte said. “I never played there but I have family members, younger cousins that play there. It’s just all we do, play baseball.”

As a youngster Almonte was influenced by players on his favorite team and he explained further.

“I looked up to Derek Jeter. My mom’s favorite player is Mariano Rivera, great character guys,” Almonte noted. “I liked (Jason) Giambi a lot when he was there just because he could hit the long ball. That was cool.”

Almonte got a bit of that coolness Thursday night when he hit a two-run homer against the Bristol Pirates. For the season he has hit a pair of long balls, has two doubles and a triple among his 20 hits on the year. He has knocked in eight runs and stolen five bases and has a .286 batting average. He feels that he is still learning the game.

“It’s been fun, but at first it was difficult going from high school ball to professional ball. I think experience, just being down there  (Gulf Coast League) and learning, learning how to actually play the game the smart way and the right way — I think that’s mainly why I’m here,” Almonte said. “Experience has gotten me better and failure — a thing I learned from failing a lot, just learning and making me a better player.”

Almonte and the Blue Jays brought a five-game winning streak into Friday night’s game against Bristol. Winning, however, Almonte thinks is secondary in the Appalachian League.

“I think developing is probably the biggest thing at these lower levels. I think once you get higher, AA or AAA, it’s more about winning, but I think down here it’s mainly for learning, learning about yourself and learning baseball — not just hitting the ball, but actually learning about situations and what to do,” Almonte explained.

“It definitely helps you mature. Professional baseball, you wouldn’t think of it like that, but it does help you mature outside of baseball just because when you’re doing baseball you’re disciplined. You’re always being on time. I think it carries over outside of baseball in becoming a man and more mature.”

The New York resident talked about the difference between the Big Apple and Bluefield.

“It’s totally different,” Almonte said with a smile. “One thing that shocked me the most were the views you have here, mountains and stuff. I’m not used to seeing any of that. It’s different but it’s definitely a beautiful place. It’s very nice.”

— Contact Bob Redd at bredd@bdtonline, Twitter @bdtredd

 

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