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Family first: Jordan Yamamoto

  • KATHY WILLENS / ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Jordan Yamamoto finished his first major league season with a 4-5 record and 4.46 earned-run average.

    KATHY WILLENS / ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Jordan Yamamoto finished his first major league season with a 4-5 record and 4.46 earned-run average.

PHILADELPHIA, PA. >> Family.

That’s what it’s all about for Jordan Yamamoto of the Miami Marlins.

He says everything he’s accomplished he owes to his family, which is written all over his body with tattoos honoring his parents, two sisters and his homeland.

It’s a tribute to his father, Larry, who dragged him out to the ballpark two hours before everyone else arrived, then kept him an hour after they all left to make sure he put in the work that enabled him to be where he is today. To his Mom, Candi, who kept encouraging him whenever his five-year road to the majors hit a snag.

And to a different family as well, to all those fellow Hawaii natives who made it, who know how hard the path is to get there, having done it themselves. Not only the current ones, but trail blazers like Shane Victorino, whom he’s never met, yet who told him about a restaurant he discovered during his eight years playing here that served authentic Hawaiian food.

The kid from Saint Louis School, where he was a freshman at the same time Marcus Mariota was a senior, loved it. “It was unreal,” gushed the 24-year-old Yamamoto about the “Poi Dog,” the place the Flyin’ Hawaiian sent him to. “I haven’t had local food in a long time.

“Not since I was home back in January.”

It’s part of the price you pay for being a major leaguer from Hawaii. Yet also something that brings them together. “Not many players make it out of Hawaii,” said Yamamoto, who went 4-5 with a 4.46 ERA in 15 starts his rookie season for the lowly Marlins, wrapping up his up-down campaign with six shutout one-hit innings against the Mets on Thursday. “Not many players are fortunate enough to have the exposure.

“I think we have a lot of talent in Hawaii, and when we do make it up here all the players know the grind. That’s the biggest thing coming from a very family-oriented lifestyle growing up, it’s hard to leave your family at 18.

“Being away from home so much it’s definitely good to have those guys to reach out to. Even thought we (he and Victorino) haven’t met each other it doesn’t matter. Because if you’re from Hawaii you know exactly where you come from.

“It’s not that we feel like underdogs. It’s just we feel when you get your shot you have to take it and you can’t miss. Because when you come from Hawaii, such a small place in the middle of the ocean, it’s very hard for scouts to come in and see you. But now it’s getting a little better.”

Especially for Yamamoto, who after getting off to a 4-0 start once he was called up in mid-June — which included pitching seven shutout innings in each of his first two starts — suddenly hit the skids. He hasn’t won since July 16 while seeing his ERA balloon from 1.59 to 4.83 before his final start in New York.

“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” explained Yamamoto, whose family is of Chinese/Japanese/Filipino/Spanish/Portuguese descent. “When guys start adjusting to you faster than you’re used to, you got to adjust.

“My mind-set the first couple of outings was ‘I have to be perfect to stay here. I don’t want to do bad because I don’t want to go back (to the minors).’

“When I started going bad I was doing too much. I had to get back to being myself and doing what I could do. That’s something I learned this year: be me.”

His manager sees potential but also the need for having a better understanding of what the job entails. “I think the biggest thing we really want with our young guys is starting to understand quality of the work between starts,” said Don Mattingly, who believes Yamamoto’s ability to mix pitches and change speeds rather than overpower hitters could be the key to his success. “What it takes to be prepared on that day you start.

“They figure out that preparation after that start is what sets you up to have success. That’s an area he has grown in.”

Now that he’s reached the offseason he needs to build off that. “He’s put himself in a really good position,” said his longtime agent, former major league infielder Dave Matranga of PSI Sports International, who also represents Kolten Wong. “He needs to have a great offseason and come to camp in good shape to show he’s ready to compete for a rotation spot.

“I definitely think he impressed the front office because he’s got an uncanny ability to read hitters and understand what guys are trying to do with him and can keep them off balance. The biggest thing for Jordan is staying strong throughout the entire season, finding a way to stay healthy and learning what it’s going to take to stay in the rotation.

“He has everything else to be a really good pitcher for a long time.”

After the season concludes here today, Yamamoto intends to do most of that offseason work in the home he just purchased in Jupiter, Fla., where he and his girlfriend, Madison, will begin the next chapter of their lives. “I’ll start working out after the season ends,” said Yamamoto, who had to shut it down for three weeks due to shoulder fatigue in early September. “It’s hard for me to get home because this is a career.

“I’ll be going home for Christmas and New Year’s, which is my dad’s birthday. But I miss every other holiday during the year.

“I’m fortunate enough to have this chance to get this house. If we’re going to take this next step in our lives we might as well start it now.”

While he’s looking ahead, though, he can’t help but also look back — and realize how fortunate he is. “My dad was one of the top dirt bike riders in the state,” said Yamamoto, who says he was “discovered” pretty much by accident since the scouts in the ballpark the day he pitched were there to see his teammate, Kodi Medeiros, now a minor leaguer in the White Sox system. “The lessons he taught me — it wasn’t about baseball.

“It was more about life. He said ‘Whatever you do, do it to the fullest. You don’t want to do it halfway.’ That’s something I’ve taken. That’s a quality I appreciate that he instilled in me growing up.

“I gave my mom the ball from my first win and my first RBI ball, because none of this would be possible without them.”

Going forward, if he continues to put in the work, Yamamoto foresees the day when hitters will not only cringe when they see him on the mound, but when they look across the field to see the Marlins. “There’s definitely a light,” said the 6-0, 185 pound Yamamoto, a 2014 12th-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers who was traded to Miami as part of a 2018 deal for Christian Yelich. “What the front office is doing gives you hope.

“When we face the Dodgers my mind-set is ‘I want to be like that,’ where people say ‘I don’t want to face those pitchers because they’re nasty.’

“We’ve shown spurts of it. But I have to work 10 times harder than in the past. I know it’s hard to get to the big leagues, but it’s even harder to stay. So this offseason will be very important to get the work done.”

Look for Larry and Candi Yamamoto’s son to do his part. He’ll follow not only their lead, but the blueprint Victorino, Wong, Kurt Suzuki, Benny Agbayani and Sid Fernandez, among others, have laid out for him.

Jordan Yamamoto is the latest member of an extended family that just keeps on growing.

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