ATLANTA — With the sun pounding down on left field wall at SunTrust Park, Arodys Vizcaíno leaned against the side railing leading into the Braves dugout and looked down at the freshly swept infield dirt, remembering his childhood and what it was like watching his mother, the person he admires most, work day in and day out to provide for her family.
Vizcaíno isn’t your average baseball player. With a personality larger than life, he throws around jokes almost as often as he throws fastballs. Teammates laugh and gravitate to him. While he may characterize himself as a serious player on the mound, off the field his smile tells a different story.
Growing up in Yaguate, Dominican Republic, a province in San Cristóbal home to just over 92,000 people, Vizcaíno was one of eight siblings, but he was the only one who fell in love with baseball.
His mother, a single mom who would do anything to make sure her kids would make it far in life, gave Vizcaíno the push and support needed to make it ahead.
“I admire my mom,” Vizcaíno said with a smile on his face. “She is a very hard-working mom who is always looking to move forward. She’s a woman who always gives me advice, and helps me make sure I am heading down the right path.”
The road to the major leagues wouldn’t start until he was 14 years old — late by most standards. However, as soon as Vizcaíno picked up a woven baseball glove and bat for the first time, he was hooked. It was at that moment that his life would change. Instead of spending time on the streets after school, he anxiously waited to get out of class so he could dash to the nearby field to get some pitches in.
From the beginning of baseball entering Vizcaíno’s life, pitching was what came naturally to him. Through hard work and determination, he began to develop his pitches into dangerous weapon against batters stepping into the box.
For many of the kids playing, with Vizcaíno included, playing in the major leagues was a regular thought that kept flashing through their young minds.
“When I started playing as a kid, our minds were always thinking if we could play professionally,” Vizcaíno said. “I am thankful to God that I got the opportunity to play.”
Many of his peers had their sights set on professional baseball bringing fame and wealth. Vizcaíno had his family in mind.
“I love it, and I really don’t know anything else. Baseball is a way for me to help my family, and it was a way to not spend time on the streets in the Dominican Republic,” Vizcaíno said of the importance of playing the sport. “I knew my mom worked very hard to get my sisters and myself ahead in life. That inspired me even more to keep playing baseball and become a professional so that now I can help her out.”
Vizcaíno’s dreams to give back to his family would start to take shape in 2007 when the New York Yankees signed him as an international free agent, but he would never step foot in Yankee Stadium as he saw stints with rookie-level Gulf Coast and Single-A Staten Island. Although projected by Baseball America to be the Yankee’s third-best pitching prospect, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 2009.
Assigned to Single-A Rome, and later to the Single-A Adanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Vizcaíno suffered a setback after a torn right elbow ligament landed him on the disabled list. Heading into 2011, Vizcaíno saw time with the Single-A Advanced Lynchburg Hillcats, but was quickly moved up to Double-A Mississippi and later to Triple-A Gwinnett.
The Braves gave him his first shot in the big leagues on Aug. 10, 2011.
Vizcaíno made 17 appearances during the 2011 season with Atlanta, producing a 4.67 ERA and 17 strikeouts.
Continuing with setbacks, Vizcaíno’s 2012 season with the Braves would be cut short as underwent Tommy Johns surgery on March 20 and was later traded to the Chicago Cubs in July of the same year. After surgery in his elbow in 2013, which required him to miss out on the remainder of the season, Vizcaíno was called back to the major leagues in September 2014 for the Cubs. He played in five games for the Cubs before once again being traded on Nov. 16, 2014.
This time, however, Vizcaíno found himself in a familiar place: Atlanta.
“When I came back in 2015 I already knew the majority of the team, and I felt like I was at home again,” Vizcaíno said. “Now this team is my second family. You know, I wouldn’t mind staying here for the rest of my career.”
Although being assigned to the Triple-A team in Gwinnett, he would be suspended for the first 80 games after testing positive for Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid. Once he served his suspension, Vizcaíno was named the Braves closer and recorded his first save against the Miami Marlins on Aug. 6, 2015.
After losing his closing role in 2016, Vizcaíno finished the season playing in 43 games and recording an earned run average of 4.42.
Now as his fourth season with the Braves gets underway, the long nights and even longer days have taken their toll on Vizcaíno. He misses his family. However, he knows he has to continue to push and work hard for them every time he steps out on the field.
“It’s very hard to be here without your family, you get lonely,” Vizcaíno said. “Sometimes I’ll go to the mall, to shop and eat dinner. Sometimes we’ll go play a game somewhere or just go wherever a game comes up so we don’t get bored.”
Vizcaíno continues to dig deep even in the most difficult of days because he sees the bigger picture for his life, the dreams he has for his family. Always keeping them close to his heart as he steps out on the mound, and getting through the disappointment of allowing the occasional run in the summer heat, the 26-year-old pitcher, who is in the place he calls his home away from home, says that fans are just now getting to see the beginning.
“My story is just now starting. I would love to still be here five years from now. I love this team. It’s the team that put me in the league, and I feel good here,” Vizcaíno said. “I feel like I’m at home here with my teammates, and I always go out there trying to get the win for my team.”