This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Cardinals rookie standout Juan Yepez got to live out the dream of a lifetime when boyhood hero and fellow Venezuelan, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, messaged him to congratulate him following his first MLB home run.
Still, that moment paled in comparison to the emotion that poured out of his every pore on May 11 when he hit his first Busch Stadium home run and got to relive the moment later that night with his parents.
“My parents have tried not to cry in front of me,” Yepez recalled. “But when we were watching that home run [against the Orioles] that night, with the way [Cardinals Spanish announcers Polo Ascencio] and Bengie [Molina] called it … it just made it so special for all of us and we cried together. ”
Yepez, one of nine Cardinals to make their Major League debut this season, recently sat down to discuss his baseball dreams while growing up in Venezuela, his friendship with Albert Pujols and Cabrera and his 7 1/2-season climb through the Minor Leagues. Here are Yepez’s answers to five burning questions:
MLB.com: What have the reactions been like from friends and family in your native Venezuela to your success at the MLB level?
Yepez: Everybody is so excited for me to finally see me achieve my dreams. After eight years in the Minor Leagues, they are so happy with how I stuck with it and that I’m getting my chance now. My parents have their family there at their house watching me, and thanks to God that I have them all supporting me – when I was in the Minor Leagues and now here with the Cardinals.
MLB.com: Venezuela has a rich history of turning out great Major League Baseball players. How old were you the first time you thought reaching the big leagues was a legitimate possibility?
Yepez: I started dreaming and playing when I was about 5 years [old], but I’d say I didn’t think it was possible until I signed my first contract to play professionally when I was 16 years old. That’s when I really thought I’d be a Major Leaguer someday.
MLB.com: You said recently that you were floored when your boyhood hero, Miguel Cabrera, messaged you on Instagram. How has that relationship evolved, and do you communicate with Miggy often?
Yepez: He had always been my favorite player since I was a little kid. We text each other here and there, but nothing crazy. But he’s been great with me.
MLB.com: Nearly every time TV cameras cut to the Cardinals’ dugout, they show you talking to Albert Pujols. What has it meant for you to have Pujols as a mentor and friend?
Yepez: If you had told me 10 years ago that I would have this kind of friendship with Albert Pujols, I would never have believed it. It’s an absolute honor to me to have a friendship with a future Hall of Fame legend and one of the best right-handed hitters to ever play the game. There are no words that I can use to explain what his friendship means to me.
MLB.com: What’s your favorite MLB moment so far?
Yepez: I would say my first home run at Busch. That one was amazing and very special. It was off Orioles starter [Spenser Watkins]. He threw me a hanging slider, and I hit it to the top of the bullpen. When I’m hitting, I don’t really look for specific pitches. When it was 2-0, he threw me a slider, and I looked bad on it. Then, he repeated it and I got it. I don’t even remember going around the bases, but it was so cool to be at home in front of the best fans in baseball. It was just such a cool moment for me.