Tucson Toros baseball
Apodaca big part of Toros' success
Most fans know the Molina brothers, the Puerto Rican trio of catchers in Major League Baseball.
Many aren’t familiar with a pair of siblings in professional baseball that also sit behind the dish for their teams. One is right here in Tucson.
Toros catcher Luis Apodaca and his brother Juan – currently in the Boston Red Sox organization – grew up playing baseball in Venezuela and now have professional careers in the United States.
Despite playing on different teams in different areas of the country, the brothers remain in contact and often teach each other different aspects of the sport.
“My brother has shown me a lot about baseball,” Luis said. “He teaches me a lot about the game, like how to be patient (at the plate). We work together and enjoy giving each other advice.”
Before coming to the Toros in 2009, Luis played for minor league affiliates of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies, reaching as high as Triple-A.
He has been a professional player since 1998, when he was signed by the Expos as a free agent.
Juan, the younger of the two catchers, was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003.
He has spent the last two seasons on the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston's Double-A affiliate, before moving to Triple-A's Pawtucket Red Sox on June 23.
In his debut with his new team on June 27, Juan went 1 for 3 with an RBI double.
“Everyone in my family is so excited about my brother’s call-up,” Luis said. “He actually got called up on my dad’s birthday, so my dad got a great present.”
Luis, 27, and Juan, 23 also share the same birthday – July 15.
“We always call and wish each other a happy birthday, even if we aren’t able to spend time together on that day,” Luis said. “We spend years at a time not seeing each other because of our baseball careers. Like last year, he was in Boston and I was at Long Beach. But we always call every year, no matter where we are.”
Besides their field position and date of birth, the Apodaca brothers have much in common. Both catchers are right-handed and are the same height, 5-foot-11.
The duo is even alike baseball-wise. In comparing career statistics between Luis and Juan, their numbers are extremely similar – from batting to speed to fielding.
Scouting reports, however, rate Luis higher in contact than his brother, while Juan fairs better in the power category with the scouts.
So far this season, Juan is batting .250 with eight RBIs, two home runs and seven doubles in 144 at-bats.
In comparison, Luis has a .321 average at the plate with 13 RBIs, no home runs and three doubles in 86 at-bats.
Toros manager Tim Johnson said he is not familiar with Juan as a player but could vouch for Luis.
“Luis is a really good catcher,” Johnson said. “He’s enthusiastic, he cares. He handles pitchers very well, and I’m lucky to have him.”
Although Luis and Juan have spent their careers in different organizations, they did compete together in 2006.
The pair played side-by-side on the Caracas Lions in the Venezuelan Winter League, which has a 62-game season running from October through December.
Luis said he much enjoyed the affectionate rivalry between him and Juan during that season.
“When we played winter ball together, everyone would always talk about my brother and me,” Luis said. “They would be like, ‘(Which brother) is going to get a base hit?’ or ‘What’re the Apodacas going to do today?’ and stuff like that. They were always excited to see what was going to happen. It was a lot of fun.”
Only athletes in family
Besides Luis and Juan, athletics are not in the Apodaca bloodline.
The Venezuelan catchers come from a lawyer father and stay-at-home mother.
Luis also has four sons and two daughters, and not one of his six children is an athlete.
“My kids like to come and see me play but they aren’t into sports at all,” Luis said. “My father isn’t an athlete either. My brother and I are the only two people in my family that play some kind of sport.”
Luis said his oldest son Leandro, 12, has a passion for art. “He likes to read but he’s really into art. He’s a great painter.”
“The other ones aren’t really old enough yet to know what their hobbies are. I ask them, ‘What do you like to do?’ and they just say, ‘Play with my toys.’ ”
Work and play
Luis entered professional baseball when he was 17 years old.
After more than a decade of having a career that demands a lot of travel and time away from his family, Luis said it’s important for him to be involved in his six children’s lives as much as possible.
One of his sons lives in Venezuela, and the rest – three sons and two daughters – are in Arizona.
“We spend a lot of time together in the morning before I get to the stadium,” Luis said. “After games, we spend a little time together sometimes. But when I get out, it’s pretty late, so they’re pretty tired or already in bed.”
Coming to the Toros in 2009, Luis said he enjoys the additional time he has to spend with his kids now, as opposed to when he was in the minor league system.
Minor league seasons run from the beginning of April through the first week in September.
The Golden Baseball League, on the other hand, starts its season seven weeks later than the minor leagues.
“The seasons were a lot longer when I played for the Expos and Rockies,” Luis said. “I like having more time to spend with my kids and getting to see them more.”
All five of Luis’s children in Tucson attend their father’s games on a regular basis. They are often in the locker room with Luis after the game and are happy to see their dad, off the field as well as on it.
“I love seeing my dad play,” Luis’s son Gabriel, 10, said. “I like watching him catch and hit. It’s really amazing how good my dad is.”