Soto attributes early start to his father
Dad spent 'hours and hours' prepping son for success in bigs
CHICAGO -- Maybe Antonio Soto had a premonition about his only son's future.
When Geovany Soto was 3 years old, his father gave him a catcher's chest protector.
"It was huge, and went all the way down to my knees," said the younger Soto, now the regular catcher with the Cubs. "I had a hat to wear backwards, and he would throw to me."
What was strange about the gift was that Soto had never indicated he wanted to be a catcher. As a youngster, he always played third base.
Antonio didn't force Geovany to be a catcher, but he did make it clear he wanted his son to be a Major League player.
"He was so passionate about the game," Geovany said. "He saw a lot of games on TV and was a big-time fan. I just liked baseball for some reason -- maybe because my dad liked it, and he always talked to me about it. It was a fun experience for me to spend time with my dad and he would spend hours and hours with me playing.
"I treasure that, and at the same time, I loved the game, and kept liking it more," Soto said. "He liked it, and I liked it, and it was something we had in common. It was so amazing. We spent so much time together playing."
Geovany does have an older sister, who ran track in high school and played volleyball. But baseball was the No. 1 spot in the Soto house. The family lives near the Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico, which has several ballfields and batting cages for players from Little League on up to use. Geovany played there.
Now, he's playing in the big leagues at Wrigley Field. His father came to Chicago in 2005 when Soto was called up, and again in 2006 and 2007. This year, Antonio is not planning on visiting until July -- and hopefully the weather will warm up by then. He watches all the Cubs games on a big screen TV at home, and the two talk about three times a week.
"If I do something awesome, like the inside-the-park [home run], he'll call me, and say, 'Hey, what's going on?'" Geovany said.
"He's living his dream through me, and I'm living my dream because I learned to love the game through him," he said. "I'm also doing so well, and he's the one who made me the type of hitter I am, everything, the mental aspect. He gives me strength every single time."
It's comforting to know his father is watching. He also razzes the young ballplayer.
"I remember one time I went 4-for-5 in Colorado, and he called me and said, 'Hey, you threw that one at-bat away,'" Geovany said. "I said, 'Dad, are you serious?'"
He didn't always agree with everything his father did for him. The young Soto had a weight problem as a child, and his baseball team would practice Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then play doubleheaders on Saturdays. Geovany had to practice every day to try and sweat off the weight.
"If it wasn't for my dad, I wouldn't be here," Soto said of those extra sessions. "Sometimes it was tough love. I wanted to be riding my bike and enjoying my childhood, but he got on top of me and said, 'You need to work out, you need to stay on top of things.'
"Now I understand why he did it," Soto said. "He knew he had a son who could make it and could be pretty good. He didn't want me to throw that opportunity away. When I was a kid, I used to be mad at him -- he'd make me run extra. I didn't understand it. Now, I know why he did it."
Now that Geovany is a father -- his daughter Gia was born last year -- this Father's Day has a different meaning.
"It's pretty special," he said. "Just to have him see me in the big leagues -- I come from a small town on a small island in Puerto Rico and to play with all these Major Leaguers and actually do pretty good makes me feel good, and it's rewarding for all the work I put in as a kid."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.