SAN DIEGO — There are bigger names, brighter stars, if you will, at this All-Star Game, but it’s doubtful that any are having more fun than Odubel Herrera.
“I love it,” the 24-year-old Phillies outfielder said Monday afternoon during a sometimes hilarious 15-minute exchange with reporters.
Herrera wore sunglasses (he was indoors) and a big smile as he talked about what a “dream come true” it was to participate in the same event as his baseball heroes, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano and his all-time favorite, Miguel Cabrera.
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When asked if any family members had made the trip to San Diego from back home in Venezuela to join him for All-Star festivities, Herrera pointed to a nice-looking couple standing a few feet away.
“My mother and father,” he said with an ear-to-ear smile.
Herrera looked over at his dad, also named Odubel.
“El Toro,” he said with a big laugh.
Of course, as Phillies fans know full well by now, Herrera’s nickname is El Torito, The Little Bull.
His father gave him that nickname when he was a young boy.
“When he was a little kid he was very thick and well built, a little chubby, so I gave him the name El Torito,” Odubel Sr. said of his son.
The name Odubel is not common.
“It’s the name my mother gave me,” Odubel Sr. said.
He looked over at Nerida, the proud mama.
“So my wife decided to give it to him,” Odubel Sr. said.
The elder Herrera picked his son’s middle name — David — in honor of the great Venezuelan shortstop David Concepcion.
The whole exchange with reporters was hilarious. The Herreras speak Spanish. Odubel Jr. speaks some English but prefers to communicate with reporters with the help of a translator. He answered most of the questions Monday through an interpreter, but when it came time for reporters to speak with his dad, Odubel suddenly understood English perfectly and served as a translator for his dad.
Even the translator employed by Major League Baseball was amused by it all.
Odubel Jr. just shrugged and laughed.
Odubel Sr. revealed a childhood phobia that his son had.
“When he was young, he was scared of dogs,” Odubel Sr. said. “We’d send him on an errand and he’d drop everything and run if he saw a dog.”
Odubel Sr., a farmer by trade, is 50 and built much like his son, strong and rugged. He, too, was a ballplayer.
“I was a second baseman in the local leagues — and I was pretty good,” he said with a laugh.
Odubel Sr. never played pro ball. But he thought his son could from an early age.
“When he was 12 years old, I started to realize he could be a great player and possibly a professional ballplayer,” Odubel Sr. said. “Thank god he was able to achieve that goal.”
The Phillies actually had interest in signing Odubel Jr. before he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2008. Six years later, the Phillies finally got Herrera. The Rangers did not protect him on their 40-man roster and the Phillies selected him in the Rule 5 draft at the San Diego winter meetings in December 2014. Herrera made the jump from Double A to the majors in 2015 and became the Phillies’ regular centerfielder. He’s having a terrific season as a second-year man in the majors, hitting .294 with a .378 on-base percentage.
“The Rangers did me a big favor by not including me on the 40-man roster,” Herrera said. “Thank god Philadelphia was able to find a spot for me.”
Herrera struck out 129 times and walked just 28 times as a rookie with the Phillies in 2015. This year, he has improved his plate discipline and walked 44 times.
The effort to become more selective started in an offseason conversation with his father, who watches games at home in Venezuela and occasionally travels to Philadelphia.
“Cut down on the strikeouts, shorten your swing,” Odubel Sr. told his son.
“My dad always gives me good advice on hitting,” Odubel Jr. said.
“She tells me how to live a good life,” he said.
Herrera is the only Phillie at this All-Star Game. He is not a starter. He might get a couple of innings and an at-bat. He might not. But even if he doesn’t get in the game, he is going to enjoy the heck out of the moment and the honor.
He already is.
So are his parents.
“When he told us, we were so happy,” his father said. “We were dancing.”