Despite a rough start, Wilmer Flores is showing some pop at the plate and cutting back on his errors.
Wilmer Flores usually has a smile on his face and is quick to laugh around the clubhouse and dugout, but earlier this season when the Mets’ embattled shortstop was booting balls and his range was exposed, the 23-year-old admitted hearing the boos and being questioned about it every game was definitely not fun.
But was it hard? No, he laughed.
Walking into a restaurant in Florida, hungry and looking at a menu he could not read and had pictures of strange food, that was hard. Trying to find someone to drive him to the bank and help him figure out foreign finances as a 16-year-old, that was trying.
“It’s hard, you leave your family, it was all different, all different here,” said Flores, who came to the U.S. to start playing for the Mets’ minor league teams seven years ago. “It was my first time ever in the U.S., it was tough. It was very tough to come here and leave your home.”
But now, just as he is growing more comfortable as a major-league shortstop, Flores is fluent in English and as at home in the U.S. as he is in his native Venezuela. In fact, Flores is one of the latest Venezuelan major-league players who, because of violence and political upheaval at home, has applied to become an American citizen.
That was hard.
“It is a tough decision because obviously you don’t want to leave where you were born,” Flores said. “But you want to be safe and you want to have everything you want.
“So you have got to make the sacrifice.”
Not a political person, Flores does not get too deep into relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, but says the violence, economy and political situation at home “is not very good right now.”
After the death of president Hugo Chavez in 2013 and the drop in oil prices last year, Venezuela has struggled economically. Inflation has gone over 60% at times. Crime has risen, along shortages of food and basics such as toilet paper and medicines have become more common. The homicide rate last year in Venezuela was second only to that of Afghanistan, according to reports.
Flores is not alone in his decision to seek citizenship in the U.S. among major leaguers. Mets lefty reliever Alex Torres, who is from the same city in Venezuela as Flores, is also applying for citizenship.
“You have to think about what is best for your family and their safety,” Torres said. “It’s not good (at) home now.”
Flores feels this is the best move for him personally and professionally, since he spends about 10 months in the U.S. a year already, playing and working out.
“It’s going to hurt leaving my country,” Flores said, “but at some point you have to do what’s best for you.”
In his seven years here, he has adapted to life in the U.S., kind of like he is starting to adapt to his role as a shortstop.
Though they knew Flores had limited range at shortstop, the Mets felt his bat would be able to overcome that. Flores is starting to show the offensive ability that always had the Mets excited. Just this week, Flores hit a go-ahead, three-run home run on Monday and had a walk-off RBI on Tuesday. In his last four games, Flores has six RBI. He is tied with Jhonny Peralta for the most home runs by a shortstop this season with seven and with his 21 RBI, he is top four among major-league shortstops.
While his nine errors are also fourth among starting MLB shortstops, he has started to stabilize a bit. He has not had an error in 12 straight games. After he had errors in three straight contests between April 29 and May 1, Terry Collins sat him for two straight. Flores has had just two errors over his last 21 games.
“He looks more relaxed out there,” Collins said. “We’ve told him there are days you are going to make errors, you have to play through it. This kid works very, very hard. Everything we’ve asked him to do, he has done. Every situation we have put him in, he has learned.
“In the major leagues, you have got to adjust and get through these things,” Collins continued. “And he is doing it.”
Both on and off the field, Flores is adapting, learning and making progress.
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