Alex Soto could only watch helplessly from his home as paramedics attempted to revive his nephew, Andres Real, on April 15. Real, a 4 year old who had been in and out of the hospital since he was born, died on the scene. In early March, Soto’s grandmother, Juana, passed away. The baseball field has always been a playground for Soto, but now it’s more than that—it’s a place of refuge.
“Baseball clears my mind,” said Soto, a starting senior infielder. “Getting out on the field with a team that is pretty much like family to me clears all of the stress off my mind.”
Make no mistake: the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Soto doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him; rather, he knows the best way to honor his loved ones is through his actions, both on and off the field. On the field, Soto has been nothing short of a revelation this season. Cut from the team a year ago, Soto used it as motivation to come back stronger than ever.
Soto has played solid defensively and produced some key hits offensively, including a two-run single in the team’s second game against Palma on March 31. That was just one of the half-dozen or so instances in which Soto has produced in key moments this season.
“Alex has delivered some big hits for us,” Balers coach Billy Aviles said. “He’s tough, plays smart and has played a key role for our team.”
Soto is in the lineup for his knack of producing hits at critical moments, something he attributes to a focused approach at the plate.
“My strength is focusing on the right pitches to hit,” he said. “I want to be selective and aggressive on the fastball, and try not to swing at an off-speed pitch early in the count.”
Soto has come a long way. Before the start of his sophomore year, he underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. It took well over a year before he finally felt right. Getting cut from any team is never an ideal situation.
Even though Soto got cut—in his junior year, no less—he used the situation to propel himself to a higher level. Soto went into this past off-season with plenty of motivation. He didn’t just have a chip on his shoulder—it was a boulder.
“It was a little rough (getting cut) knowing I thought I was good enough to play, but it made me want to come out this year and prove to everyone that I belonged on the team,” he said. “It was a big accomplishment to make the team, and exciting knowing I proved I belonged.”
Soto didn’t just proved he belonged—his impact has been felt throughout the season. Soto’s first start of the season came at first base; however, he’s started more contests at third base. Soto had actually never played first base at any level until this year. No matter where he’s playing, Soto is gaining more confidence as the season progresses.
“I realize I’m just as good as everybody else on the field,” he said.
Soto didn’t play for a travel team in the off-season, rather, he worked daily with his dad, Frank, hitting balls into the net in their garage.
“My dad didn’t play baseball, but he’s been a good coach and mentor,” Soto said. “He pushed me through the whole summer telling me I had something to prove everyday.”
Soto’s older brother, Robert, was a standout pitcher and outfielder for San Benito High four years ago. Robert also played an instrumental role in toughening Alex’s mental toughness and resolve.
“He pushed me around a lot growing up,” Alex said. “I was always working to try to beat him in something and in any little thing we did. I remember watching him and how great of a player he was, and that drove me to work hard so I could match or be better than him once I got to high school.”
Soto takes the field each day, intent on making the most of his opportunity. He knows better than anyone just how precious life is. He’s also thankful and grateful that he’s healthy and able to do things most people take for granted—like running and playing sports. After all, Soto saw first hand that simple things like walking and talking should not be taken for granted.
Soto said Real was born with Holoprosencephaly (HPE), a birth defect of the brain.
“He was also born with a cleft lip,” Soto said. “He had a lot of health issues, and was always in and out of the hospital. A couple of years ago, they had to use (a tracheal tube) so he could breathe. He couldn’t even go outside and watch me play or do anything. He had a pretty rough life. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, and yet you’d see him laughing. He always had a smile on his face. I don’t know if he could ever understand us, but he was always a part of everything our family was doing.”
As paramedics did chest compressions and inserted an oxygen mask on Real to no avail, Soto was in the midst of profound, searing tragedy.
“That was a pretty rough day,” he said. “As a family, we’re just trying to get through it all. We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve got to keep going.”
Amidst grief, Soto will keep playing every game as if it’s his last, because it’s the only way he knows how to go.