Tayron Guerrero grew up on a sparsely populated speck of an island in the Caribbean, in a beachfront town so remote it’s been called “the village tourism forgot.”
Isla Tierra Bomba sits just off the coast of Colombia, and it was there Guerrero first picked up a baseball. When you look at Guerrero now, it’s hard to imagine that a man so tall — a slender, 6-foot-8-inch reliever for the Marlins with a 100 mph fastball — could come from a place so small.
The island is accessible only by boat. There are no bridges or paved roads in his hometown of Bocachica, and Guerrero said none of the locals owns a car, truck or van.
“You’re starting to see a few motorcycles,” he said.
Because the only “baseball field” there is nothing more than a dirt lot, without a mound or bases, Guerrero had to cross over to the Colombian mainland in a single-engine boat in order to play and improve.
When the boat returned him at night to a neighborhood on the northern edge of the island, Guerrero would walk two hours through a snake-infested jungle to get back home.
“Every time I remember that, that’s motivation for me to keep working,” Guerrero said. “It’s one of the big sacrifices I had to make to be sitting here today, in a big-league camp.”
Guerrero is not expected to make the Marlins’ Opening Day roster.
But as the “other player” in last summer’s controversial trade with the Padres that also brought pitchers Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea to the Marlins, Guerrero is regarded within the organization as a rising bullpen piece.
“He’s interesting,” said Michael Hill, president of baseball operations.
The Marlins have an abundance of quality relievers in their system at both the major- and minor-league levels. Guerrero could start the season at Double A Jacksonville.
But team officials believe that if he can refine his secondary pitches and improve on his strike-zone command, Guerrero could be the Marlins’ late-inning flamethrower of the future. While the 26-year-old right-hander has averaged a strikeout per inning during his minor-league career, he has also walked an average of nearly six batters per nine innings.
Guerrero pitched in the 2014 All-Star Futures Game and made his major-league debut last May against the Giants, retiring the first batter he faced, Buster Posey, on one pitch. After allowing one run over two innings, the Padres promptly sent him back to the minors.
In July, he was included in the trade with Cashner and Rea. But the trade unraveled in controversy when Rea injured his arm in his Marlins debut and was traded back to the Padres as damaged goods. Cashner, a late-season rental, didn’t pan out and left via free agency.
“So here I am,” said Guerrero, the only remnant from that trade still with the Marlins.
It’s been a difficult journey that involved boat rides and jungle walks.
Why, Guerrero said he was even afraid of the sport when it was first introduced to him at the age of 10.
“I was scared of the ball hitting me,” he said.
And his father, who ran a small grocery store, at first refused to allow his son to play organized baseball when a local coach came asking for permission.
“My dad told him, ‘No, I don’t like that sport,’” Guerrero said.
Now Guerrero is making a living at it. He’ll play with Colombia in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. One day soon, he hopes to be playing full-time in Miami, a long, long way from Isla Tierra Bomba.