Martin Prado spent five years in the minor leagues before he made the Braves’ Opening Day roster in 2008.
So he hasn’t forgotten what’s it like to chase a dream and make a mere fraction of what he does now.
“I didn’t go to bed without food in my stomach,” the Miami Marlins’ new third baseman said. “But I had it pretty bad.”
Prado, in the third year of a four-year, $40 million deal he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, has made it a point since to treat the guys he was once like to at least one good meal a season.
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With a week to go in spring training, the 31-year-old Venezuelan invited every Hispanic player in the organization ‒ minor and major-leaguers ‒ to dinner and picked up the tab for 47 players and some of their wives or girlfriends at Yard House in Palm Beach Gardens.
“I used to do it with Atlanta every year, tried to gather all the Latin guys, just to let them know when you’re up here, you can help guys down there, just to show them that whenever they’re in the top, they can still reach out and help guys that don’t have a lot,” said Prado, who wouldn’t share the total of the bill.
Most of the players ordered big steak dinners. All of them ‒ including utility man Donovan Solano ‒ were touched by the gesture. It’s something Albert Pujols used to do, Solano said, when both were with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Everyone was laughing and talking about baseball,” Prado said. “After dinner, everybody was very kind, like, ‘Hey man, I can’t believe you did this.’ And I said, ‘Hey guys. I didn’t do this just because I wanted to be a nice guy or I wanted you to think I’m trying to show off, to show that I’m better. I did this because 10 years from now, I’ll be out of baseball and you guys are going to be stars. So hopefully you guys take care of guys coming up behind you guys.’ ”
Whether it’s paying it forward with picking up dinner tabs or being around to provide counsel, Prado’s contributions (.291 hitter, 13 HR, 70 RBI average) have extended beyond the playing field over the years.
“He’s a special guy,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was Atlanta’s third-base coach when Prado debuted in 2006 and coached Prado when Gonzalez took over as Braves manager in 2011 for two years.
“[Marlins broadcaster] Tommy Hutton asked me about Prado and what I thought about him,” Gonzalez continued. “I said, he makes everybody on the team better. You’re going to call BS on this, but I think if he was here, I think our shortstop [Andrelton Simmons] would be that much better. And here he’s won two Gold Gloves, won a Platinum Glove. But I think his total game would be a lot better if Martin Prado was at second base or third base or just on the team.
“He has that presence about him, and he makes everybody else accountable, he makes everybody else work like he works, and he cares. Before his last year, and in Simmons’ first year, I saw it. I saw Simmons follow him around like a little puppy dog. It was good.”
Marlins skipper Mike Redmond is hoping the same will happen with shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and center fielder Marcell Ozuna. The Marlins haven’t had many veteran leaders of Latin descent since Mike Lowell was around, and with Prado they have one of the game’s best.
“It didn’t matter if you spoke English or didn’t speak English, or you spoke Spanish, or you spoke Japanese ‒ he found a way to blend in with all his teammates,” Gonzalez said. “Chipper Jones, in his speech on the field when they retired his number, he mentioned Martin Prado as one of his favorite teammates. This is Chipper Jones, a future Hall of Famer, and he [only] played with him maybe three years.”
Prado, by the way, said it was former Marlins World Series hero Edgar Renteria who mentored him when both were with Atlanta.
“I’ve always been a guy that I speak when I need to speak, but I’m kind of quiet,” Prado said.
“I already told [Ozuna and Hechavarria] that whatever they need from me, I’ll be there to show them the way I was taught. It worked for me, it might work for them. I’m not actually over them every day, trying to tell them what to do. But along the way when the season starts that’s the time you see things and fix things because you see the guy every day, eight hours a day. It’s easier like that.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Clark Spencer contributed to this report.