In a matter of two big-league seasons, phenom Gleyber Torres has brought joy to countless Yankees fans in the New York area. He's ascended to stardom in the heart of the Yankees' lineup, launching 38 home runs this past season as a 22-year-old, earning his second-consecutive All-Star Game appearance.
You’ve replayed his highlights at the plate. Watched him make diving plays in the infield. His youthful flare and contagious smile are poised to be a cornerstone in pinstripes for years to come.
What you haven’t seen, however, is Torres’ dedication to giving back in the New York community – often when no one is watching.
On Tuesday, Torres was a recipient of the Thurman Munson Award, an honor annually presented to players that inspire with their performance on the field and in the community.
The award was presented during a ceremony prior to the 40th Annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, benefitting AHRC New York City Foundation, which assists children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The event takes place each year to honor and remember the former Yankees’ captain Munson, who tragically passed away in 1979 – just 11 years into his illustrious career in the Bronx.
J.D. Davis of the New York Mets, former Yankees outfielder and manager Lou Piniella, former Mets closer John Franco and Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman were also recipients of awards.
Torres explained that Munson’s legacy left on those within the Yankees’ organization has influenced him to give back.
“When I was a rookie, I heard a lot about him,” Torres said. “Like what he did in the community in New York for the kids and everything – he was amazing. When I heard the news that I got the award, I felt really great. I’m just trying to continue how Munson did it.”
At the event, each of the honorees spoke to a room filled to the brink with members of the local media and those with connections to Munson and his family. When it was his turn to take the stage, Torres spoke about how he helps Spanish-speaking children to learn English, matching his efforts in the community with his work ethic on the field.
“My first language is Spanish,” Torres explained. “When I have the opportunity to explain my history and how I learned English … it’s amazing. I try to be simple and be great. When I have an opportunity to help people, I try to do my best.”
In addition to teaching English, Torres has left his mark in a multitude of ways – entering his junior season, he’s already one of the most active athletes when it comes to community outreach here in the New York area.
Torres has volunteered at public schools across the city, donating Christmas gifts at P.S. 55 (one of the poorest schools in the state). He’s worked with Make-A-Wish, spending the day with Zac Schwartz and delivering on a home-run promise before Schwartz passed away after his fight cancer.
Torres, born in 1996, never had a chance to meet Munson. To Ray Negron – a longtime ambassador in the organization who has been a part of the Yankees family since Munson's heyday – Torres embodies all that the former Yankees' backstop stood for.
Not just for his publicized charity work, but for all he’s done when the cameras aren’t on.
“The first thing that I do with young players is teach them about Thurman Munson,” Negron said. “Teach them about the fact that what he used to do off the field and the fact that he never wanted media around when he was dealing with kids because he didn’t want the attention to go off the kids. That was very important to him.”
Negron, who worked as the Bombers’ bat boy almost five decades ago, recalled Munson was one of the “strongest, wonderful and caring” men he's ever known. He spoke of Munson's dedication to volunteering his time with children, as he “loved the kids” – values that Negron has helped instill in the Yanks’ budding superstar.
“I’ve taught Gleyber that a long time ago and we’ve gone on more visits that people don’t know about than visits that people do know about. And I’m proud of that. That’s why he’s so deserving of this award.“
Munson’s widow also Diana took the stage at the event, bursting with pride on the $16 million raised for AHRC, helping those in need. She told one story about her husband, revealing just how active Munson was in the community behind the scenes.
“Some athletes will say ‘I’m going to AHRC home, I’m going to one of the residents, I’m going to a hospital, so have a film crew there at four o’clock.’ Thurman was just the opposite,” she recalled. “He would go do those things, but he would do it quietly without the press being involved. So sometimes I think he maybe got a bad rap because maybe people didn’t think he gave back. In fact, I’m here to tell you he did. I’m so proud that this dinner continues and you’re all here remembering him.”
The sky is the limit for a player like Torres, who has a gift for excellence when playing the game of baseball. This season, he's set to take over as New York's full-time shortstop, a challenge he says he's ready for on both sides of the ball.
So, as we count down to Spring Training and fans anxiously await another season full of no-doubt homers and stellar defensive plays from the 23-year-old – remember that Torres is constantly striving for success off the field as well. You may not see it in the news, but Torres is doing his part and carrying on the legacy that Thurman Munson left behind four decades ago.
"It’s really important to be part of your community," Torres said, perking up after being asked what his message to younger players would be. "Try to help everybody outside the field. It’s very important to get a really good relationship with your fans and your community, I think it’s the best thing you can do."
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