Miami Marlins’ catcher Jorge Alfaro affectionately has been nicknamed “El Oso,” Spanish for “The Bear,” for most of his professional career. The origin comes from his days in the Texas Rangers’ minor-league system, when one of his coaches compared Alfaro to the animal because he liked to sleep and eat a lot when not playing.
But Alfaro has shown at different times this season how the nickname can transcend its original meaning.
When he’s behind the plate, the 26-year-old is reminiscent of a grizzly bear. He serves as a bodyguard for the young pitching staff that is growing with him. He vouches for his teammates work ethic and their drive to make the most of a season even as the losses continue to pile up.
His hulking 6-2, 225-pound frame, full black beard and lengthy hair help, too.
And then there are days like Friday, hours before the Marlins hosted the Philadelphia Phillies to begin a three-game series at Marlins Park, when he softens into a teddy bear.
On Friday afternoon, Alfaro spent more than an hour at alex’s place at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, where about a dozen pediatric patients had been working on a project for him over the past week.
When he arrived at the center, part of the University of Miami Health System that treats children with cancer and blood diseases and is located about a mile northeast of Marlins Park, they had customized cleats and a decorated arm sleeve waiting for him.
He met with a handful of the children, ages ranging from 5 to 16, who contributed on Friday.
“I think my mentality in this is just making people feel better, giving them that feeling, that joy,” Alfaro said. “It’s bigger than anything else.”
The new additions to his wardrobe will be on display this series.
Friday marked the start of Major League Baseball’s Players’ Weekend, an annual three-day stretch in which players ditch their surnames and have the opportunity to have nicknames on the backs of their jerseys and use customized cleats, bats and other game day equipment.
Teams this year are wearing monochrome uniforms — either all-white or all-black — which MLB believes “will make the players’ choices of colorful cleats, bats, batting gloves, wristbands, compression sleeves and catcher’s equipment all the more vibrant.”
The home team got to decide whether to wear white or black. The Marlins opted for the all-white uniforms, which should make Alfaro’s new cleats and arm sleeve stand out even more.
Both shoes, now a rainbow of patchwork designs and colors after beginning as blank canvases, contain signatures of all the kids as well as phrases such as “one good deed a day,” “Be Brave,” and “Take Over 2019.”
The arm sleeve has a large shark down the middle, the phrase “World Series” written above it and heart colored to represent the Colombian flag.
One quote in particular stood out to Alfaro: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass... It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
“The messages that the shoes have are all reflected there in that quote, which tells you that a bad day isn’t the whole story,” Alfaro said. “A bad chapter doesn’t mean the story ends there.”
Alfaro knows the kids at alex’s place, the 3,200-square-foot pediatric hematology-oncology clinic, are going through rough times.
But for a short time, he was able to help them focus on something else. He thanked each of the kids he met for contributing.
It really impacts me because you can see that they’re going through actual battles — real struggles,” Alfaro said. “Sometimes you complain about your day-to-day and then you see that this is a real battle for life.”
Alfaro, the Marlins’ everyday starting catcher obtained as part of the J.T. Realmuto trade with the Phillies in February, is now at a point in his career where he can make an impact on others’ lives.
El Oso is certainly making the most of it.
“Having the possibility to make this happen really is fulfilling,” Alfaro said. “If you can do it, you have to do it.”