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Rising Son: Lenny Torres Jr. Represents Family, Beacon

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Senior can’t stop shaking. But he’s got to try. He’s got to hold steady.

He’s got a video camera in one hand and an iPad in the other. If he had a third and fourth hand, he’d surely put them to use, too. His smartphone is at his side, and his Facebook and Twitter are open—as always—to update the 15,000 others. They’re watching intently.

It’s an early summer day in Fort Myers, Fla.— home of the 2017 Perfect Game National Showcase, a.k.a. the showcase that kicks off all other showcases. Senior has planted himself just to the left of the backstop at JetBlue Park-Stadium, buried somewhere in a mosh pit of scouts. How bizarre this all feels. Could this be real? It can’t be.

“Lineras Torres. Beacon, N.Y.,” blares the PA announcer as warm-up pitches pop like gunshots.

Then comes another sound—the sound of rustling papers, like a class of elementary school kids simultaneously flipping through textbooks. Senior can hear a murmuring. “Who the hell is this kid?” says one talent-seeker while thumbing through his notebook.

First pitch: 92.7 mph. The rustling intensifies.

Second pitch: 92.4 mph. A hundred pens rush to paper.

The slender teenager doesn’t have his best stuff this day, but he doesn’t need it. He’s got the quick arm, the projectability, the presence, all the checkboxes scouts look for. He touches 94 mph.

Two innings speed by. Senior frees his hands and packs up his parental tool kit, rushing toward the first-base dugout. He spots his son leaning over the railing, and he gives his son two thumbs up. The 16-year-old looks disinterested—disappointed, even. This is normal. He’s never been one to wear his emotions. He’s the quiet kid.

Senior turns around and climbs the bleachers, back toward the concourse. But he can’t break through the impending wave. He’s a running back trying to avoid an all-out blitz. They won’t let him escape.

The first agent approaches.

“Hello,” he says, “does anyone represent your son? Here’s my card. I would love to sit down with you and chat.”

Another agent, another card; another agent, another card; another agent, another card. Senior counts 14 in all.

Finally—freedom. Senior bursts through the showcase paparazzi and pulls out his phone. He dials Ana, the woman who saved his life, who turned a forgotten boy from the hood into a proud family man. She’s long been his calming influence.

“What’s wrong?” she says, concerned, after seconds pass in silence.

Nothing’s wrong. It’s the opposite of wrong.

Senior simply can’t speak through his tears.

Senior: Part One

In a state known for its flashing lights, its skyscrapers, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, the city known as “Beacon” is anything but. The name is a misnomer. The city’s more a low-burning flame on a winter day—warm and inviting, a place to gather and share.

In forgiving traffic, it only takes an hour-and-a-half to get there from Manhattan. But Beacon (population:15,000) might as well be in another state entirely.

Nestled in the mountains, the city is a slice of Appalachia. The horizon boasts far more green than gray, and the buildings are almost all eye level. Most of all, Beacon is quiet. It’s the City That Sleeps 7-to-9 Hours A Night. It’s the City That Eats A Well-Balanced Breakfast. 

In mid-November, several months after PG National and the heat of Fort Myers, Beacon is cold and it is beautiful. Senior, 42, stands on his front porch, on the second floor of his three-level home, encircled by a mountainous autumn backdrop. It’s about mid-day on a Sunday; Senior’s 17-year-old son, 21-year-old stepdaughter and wife, Ana, are all home.

On his porch, Senior cradles his soon-to-be 3-year-old son in his arms and gestures toward a baseball field maybe 100 yards away.

That’s where Junior’s baseball story began, 10 years ago. It couldn’t be closer to home. Senior’s house sits directly across from it, in the southeast corner of a neatly groomed cul de sac. The high school and football field are a short walk away, too.

There’s a black Mazda sedan and gray Ford SUV in the driveway. The garage door is open, revealing a makeshift wood-working shop—homemade cabinets and drawers, planks of wood and power tools. Senior learned how to woodwork by watching YouTube videos. He’s a self-described do-it-your-selfer with an insatiable hunger to learn. Once he takes on a project, he follows through with it until the very end. He’s constantly working on something. He feels like he’s three years behind. On everything. On life.

At the end of the driveway, the mailbox reads: “Torres.” This is home.

“It’s a perfect place to raise a family,” Senior says of the house, of Beacon. “I couldn’t ask for a better setting.”

He means that. Twenty years ago, he wouldn’t have dared to ask for anything remotely like this. It’s hard to dream from the confines of a jail cell. For some time, Lineras Torres didn’t expect to have a future at all.

Torres grew up in the projects in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Torres’ mother and father split when he was an infant—pulled apart by drugs. His father was an addict. He died when Torres was 15. Ironically, Torres’ father had tried to quit, but he quit cold turkey, and his body reacted by thrusting him into a fatal heart attack.

Torres’ stepfather wasn’t much better. A corrections officer at Riker’s Island, he was present but firm. Torres said he felt like he was one of his inmates. Torres’ mother scared Lenny out of ever drinking or using drugs, but neither parent could hold him within their walls. Back then, the streets were home.

Gangs. Fights. Courtrooms. Lenny was an angsty teenager, fueled by hormones and neglect. He had nowhere to look for guidance.

“I remember fighting a lot,” Torres said. “I wasn’t the best kid. I guess whatever was going on in my house, I kind of brought it outside.

“I shouldn’t be alive right now. I should’ve been dead 10 times with the stuff I was getting into.”

Lenny started gaining a reputation, building a rap sheet. By May of 1994, when he was just 18, a judge had already seen enough of him.

“It was a lot of minor things that were going on. I kept running with the wrong people, and it just kept adding up,” Torres said. “And it got to the point where the judge was like, ‘You know what? Take this and hopefully you learn from it. I’m getting tired of seeing you. And when you come out, get your life together.’ And that was it.”

Torres served three years at Greene Correctional Facility for a non-violent crime, earning his GED in that time and gaining his freedom in January of 1997. It took him a couple of years to find an employer willing to hire him—a construction company that still employs him now.

All of a sudden, that newfound work put money in his pockets, and Torres wasn’t shy about spending it out on the town.

One night, in November of 1999, the 23-year-old walked into a dance club, and fate intervened. That’s when he saw her—the kind of woman he had always been looking for, whether he had realized it or not. She was the single mother of a 3-year-old girl, a reserved, responsible young woman from a quiet place called Beacon. 

The suburban girl pulled the city boy onto the dancefloor—two vastly different worlds spinning together in orbit.

The first of many, many dances to come.

***

A name can be a badge, or it can be a scarlet letter. It can be beloved or notorious. It can open doors, and it can just as easily close them.

For 23 years, the name “Lineras Torres” was a conversation-ender. A stop sign. No one bothered to examine the human being behind the name. They just looked at the description on the arrest record. A man’s life story distilled onto a single sheet of paper.

That name could’ve been lost forever, weighed down in infamy. It seemed destined to be shelved, buried, pushed aside, forgotten.

At some point along the way, the man who bears that name decided to take it back. He wanted to turn it into something better, but he knew he couldn’t do it alone.

When he and Ana welcomed their first son into the world in October of 2000—less than a year after they first met on the dancefloor—the new father insisted that the boy take his name.

“You can name the next one,” he told Ana, half-jokingly.

This wasn’t just a birth—it was a rebirth.

Junior: Part One

The gelato place opened a few months ago on Main Street, and Junior needed a job.

So one day, the teen decided he would poke his head into Gino’s Italian Ices and see if there were any hours for the taking. The conversation with Justin, Gino’s owner, didn’t last very long. It didn’t need to. The kid’s presence, self-assuredness, just the way he carried himself—that was better than any resume.

When the chat ended, Justin pulled out a list of about 20 hand-written names of prospective employees and scribbled one more. He circled it—hard.

“Lenny Torres.”

Days later, Lenny was scooping ice cream for the sweet tooths of Beacon. Weeks later, he was closing down the shop all by himself. Now, he’s the first employee Justin calls. 

Lenny has helped business. Even more, he’s become part of the attraction. Kids flock to the shop to see Lenny just as much as they come for the gelato. On more than one occasion, an 8- or 9-year-old child has come up to Lenny and called him their hero, their role model. They give him high fives, ask him question after question. Lenny has taken pictures with many of them.

That hoopla has nothing to do with his gelato-scooping skills.

“It’s so weird,” Lenny said. “I just think I’m a regular kid, and they see it as I’m the Derek Jeter or whatever of the town. It kind of makes me happy inside, like I’m starting to get noticed, and I might actually be making a difference for these kids.”

Word spreads quickly around Beacon. It’s a “Cheers” kind of place where everybody knows your name—and everybody might literally know Lenny’s. After all, there aren’t any other kids in town who can throw 96 mph, with a wicked slider to boot.

In the past few months, Torres has gone from a relative nobody in the baseball industry to a potential top pick. He checks in at No. 40 in BA’s High School Top 100 and could surge up that list if his improving strength leads to increased velocity this spring. With an October birthday, he’s one of the youngest prospects in the 2018 draft class.

In the Hudson Valley area, that sort of talent is anything but commonplace. The most recent local hero? Sean Lucas, a lefthander drafted by the Reds in the 25th round in 2012. The most famous? Joe Panik, a 2011 first-rounder after three years at St. John’s.

And then there’s Lenny. The Kid with the Arm. Every field he stepped on as a child became a stage for his righthanded pyrotechnics. He began his baseball life as a shortstop, but as more coaches and parents saw the sheer strength in his arm, they started pushing him toward the pitcher’s mound.

No one knows exactly where that strength came from. Junior’s father never played baseball. When Lenny was 4 years old, Senior would throw a ball with him for hours—a sort of casual long-toss—but there was no sort of structured or regimented training.

“I don’t remember much at all,” Junior said, smiling. “I just remember I used to always throw the ball the hardest.”

After the Torres family moved to their Beacon home in 2007—when Lenny was 7—access to a baseball field became as easy as walking across the street. Lenny bounced around a few different travel ball teams; some dissolved, others didn’t provide enough of a challenge. “Everyone on this team has my son to look up to,” Senior would say. “Who does he have to look up to?”

Then, a turning point.

Near his 14th birthday, Lenny met with Angel Lugo, an 11-year owner of the local Extra Innings training facility and a former Twins farmhand. Lugo quickly became a vital mentor.

“It’s funny—I told the dad right after the first lesson—I said, ‘Listen, we have something special here,’” Lugo said. “He had very fast arm action. Mechanically, he had a few things to tweak and work on, the basic 13-year-old stuff. But his arm was so fast. I was just like, ‘Wow, this kid’s got something.’”

Working in conjunction with the Top Velocity pitching program, Lugo deconstructed Torres’ delivery, briefly took his breaking ball away from him and taught him to command his fastball and changeup. The results speak for themselves.

As a sophomore in high school, Torres received an invitation to the Area Code Game tryouts in the Northeast after he was noticed by a scout at one of his games. As a junior in 2017, he got the call for PG National. The Torres family didn’t even know what Perfect Game was before that invitation. They know now.

PG National was only the start. More invitations soon flooded in—trips to Tampa, Long Beach and San Diego. Then came a call from Matt Blood, the 18U National Team Director for USA Baseball.

Thankfully for Lenny, Gino’s Italian Ices has flexible hours.

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New York's Top MLB Draft Prospects

New York's crop of MLB Draft prospects is lead by Lenny Torres Jr. in 2018.

Senior: Part Two

Ana couldn’t understand why the man she pulled onto the dancefloor had so much money in his pockets.

“Don’t you have a savings?” she asked him. He didn’t.

He was so different, Lenny Torres, the man with whom Ana started spending her weekends. He had a good job in the city—a foreman for a construction company. But he couldn’t yet grasp what it was to be an adult. Nothing in his childhood had prepared him for it.

Ana was, and still is, very much not that way. She’s a fervent organizer with self-diagnosed OCD. She’s steady. Calm. Reliable. She was already the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, Jalana, when she met Lenny. An unexpected pregnancy—with Junior—in the first couple months of dating expedited their relationship. They’ve been together for almost 18 years.

In some ways, Ana and Lenny are the perfect complements to each other, but opposites do sometimes clash. There were hiccups. Fatherhood snuck up on Lenny.

“We struggled a little bit in our relationship,” Lenny said. “There was a little break in between, but it woke me up. That break was on me, because I’ve always lived with somebody, with family. And I felt like if I’m gonna raise a man, I have to learn what it is to be a man all the way around—cook for myself, clean my own clothes, pay my own bills, that type of thing. And I felt like I couldn’t do that.

“I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.”

How do you teach what you weren’t taught? How do you become a father when you never truly had one? Lenny didn’t know those answers, but he was determined to find them.

He channeled his DIY tendencies and applied it to fatherhood. His kids were his first project. He didn’t have an exact blueprint, but he knew what not to do. He took his childhood and reversed it.

Instead of living in the projects, he’s raised his kids in a safe suburban area. He’s kept them off the streets. He’s been the father figure he never had. He is their fiercest advocate and staunchest supporter. Part of him still misses the rush of city life, but that doesn’t compare to the rush he feels when Junior lights up the radar gun or when Jalana makes another A on one of her college exams. She’s been easy to raise—she’s as studious as they come. She once emailed one of her professors asking why she got an A- instead of a full-fledged A.

At the same time, Lenny has been conscious not to coddle them. He knows all too well the kind of learning that stems from failure.

“I always believe that you have to struggle a little bit,” he said. “You have to work. If you really want something, you have to bust your butt. So I didn’t hand everything over to my kids. I made them work for it.”

He’s been persistent in that regard. Part of his fear as a new father was that his kids wouldn’t have the same urgency he has, that same life-or-death mentality that formed in his troubled youth and powers him now. How could they?

This is where Ana—and her trademark rationality—serves as a counterbalance.

“Their stories growing up are different from me and Lenny’s,” she said. “I’m not going to take away from them—because they didn’t live in the city—that their meaning of life is different. We’ve had conversations where people will be like, ‘Oh, well, they don’t know what it is to pull out of the ghetto.’ O.K., I understand that, but they’ve also had their share of difficulties. It may not be as complex as the ghetto. Sometimes people will say they have it too good. I don’t agree with that.

“They’ve had their share of mistakes, and they’ve learned from it. They’re not error-free.”

Lenny credits Ana for enlightening him, for transforming him into the family man he is today. But it’s by no means a one-sided relationship.

“He brought into my life that little city feel—but not too much of it,” Ana said, laughing. “I’m grateful to him that he was able to welcome this quiet and decided to make it our home. His focus is always on making his family happy and taking care of them. As a father, he’s amazing. I couldn’t ask for any better.

“Anyone from his past, if they saw him now, they’d be like, ‘Really? That’s you, Lenny? That’s your family? You have a kid who has the potential to be an MLB player? You have a daughter who is killing it in school? Really? From Lenny?’”

Lenny and Ana have taken so much joy in parenting together that three years ago they decided to do it all over again. Their second son, Josiah, was born on November 24, 2014.

That date is significant. It’s Senior’s birthday, too.

Junior: Part Two

He cracks a quiet smile, a window into the energy behind his quiet countenance. One wall of his bedroom is lined with all of the trophies, medals, special cleats and gear he’s accrued while playing baseball, a collection that grew substantially this summer. On the headboard of his bed is a locker-room nameplate reading “Lineras Torres Jr.” that he took with him from Petco Park in San Diego, where he pitched in the Perfect Game All-American Classic. A giant life-sized Derek Jeter Fathead clings to that same wall, above his pillow, the place where he dreams at night.

These days, he’s not dreaming quite as much. Lenny’s been waking up every morning at 4:45 to work out, and he’s found himself actually enjoying it. He knows that scouts were critical of his slender 6-foot-1 frame and the strength of his lower half this summer. He’s gotten by most of his life on his natural arm speed, but not anymore. Now he feels stronger, sturdier. From the beginning of last summer to the end, his max velocity jumped from 94 to 96 mph. And he thinks there’s more in him—he can feel it already.

“I definitely feel he’s gonna add a tick or two—more than one or two, I think,” Lugo said. “His body’s moving great right now. You can see the hip and the upper body separation, and his flexibility has gotten better, and he’s definitely gotten a lot stronger.

“I think we’re gonna see something great this spring. I’m excited for him.”

Throughout this whole journey, Lenny has shown little in the way of emotion. That’s not who he is. His father, on the other hand, is on the cusp of tears whenever he talks about it. Senior has hit every emotional peak and valley throughout the process. He films all of Junior’s appearances, and he routinely updates all of Beacon through his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He’s been frustrated when he’s watched TV broadcasts of some of Lenny’s games; the announcers seem to know every personal detail about top high school arms like Ethan Hankins and Kumar Rocker, but they know next to nothing about his son.

“Let’s take the baseball out of the way. Let’s see his story,” Senior said, bursting with passion. “What got him there? What opportunities did he have? He didn’t have it. He didn’t have the opportunities that most guys have, as far as they have their parents that had the connections. Talent is important, but everybody has that little edge. They have that little inside hookup, and we didn’t have it. He had to grind it out. And every time he got noticed, it wasn’t because I knew somebody. It was because it was warranted; he deserved it.”

For the most part, Junior hasn’t paid much attention to that sort of thing. He skews much more toward his mother’s side of the personality spectrum. He has a more even-keeled disposition. Even still, with his dreams inching closer to reality, a few small cracks have emerged in his cool-and-collected armor.

In early November, Junior signed his national letter of intent to play for St. John’s, where he’ll pitch if the draft doesn’t work in his favor. Positioned in front of all his family and friends in the Beacon High computer lab, Junior found himself surprisingly nervous. Ana sat to his left and was stunned when she noticed her son’s arm shaking. “It doesn’t even look like my signature,” Junior said, laughing.

Then there were the USA Baseball trials in Minnesota in August—the first time Junior has experienced any sort of baseball failure. With the way he pitched in the trials, the entire family—hell, all of Beacon—was convinced Lenny would make the final 20-man roster. Family and friends gathered in the Torres living room to watch the selection show on their LCD TV.

But Lenny didn’t make the cut. Half of Beacon expressed their outrage on social media. Senior was devastated. He called everyone he could think of to demand answers. He started every phone call with, “Please, help me understand.”

His son was still miles away when the announcement was made. The Torres family heard nothing from him except for a short text that read: “See you guys tomorrow.”

What they didn’t see was Lenny sitting in the Target Field locker room, with his head down, holding back tears. He waited until every other player left the room before he finally let his mental dam break. Lenny sobbed for so long that the rest of the staff had to send someone to look for him. Every other player had already boarded the team bus.

When Lenny got back to the team hotel, he marched directly to the fitness center, put on his headphones and turned up the treadmill’s speed setting to its highest velocity. He ran for an hour at full speed. Intense. Angry. A middle-aged woman on the adjacent treadmill kept turning her eyes toward him. What’s wrong with this kid?

The next morning, Lenny could barely move. His legs were shot.

“That was really the only time I cared that I didn’t make a team,” Junior said. “This was USA. I did everything I could, and I thought I did everything I could to make the team, and when I didn’t hear my name called, I was about to flip out.

“But then when I came home, I was hungry. I wanted to pitch more . . . I learned from it. Not making that team has motivated me more.”

Lenny allowed himself to wallow for two days. Then he snapped right back into focus.

In the July 10 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal, writer Stephen Haynes wrote a story about a kid in nearby Beacon who was named to the USA Baseball 18U team’s initial 40-man roster. The article details the kid’s desire to represent not only his country—but Beacon.

At the bottom of the piece, there’s a direct quote from Lenny that reads:

“My dad always told me to be humble, but don’t be afraid to show what you’ve got. He said, ‘Be a good representation of the last name on the back of your jersey and the town on the front of it.’”

When Senior came across that quote in the paper, he beamed. He couldn’t help it. To him, it was concrete proof.

“They really do listen,” said Senior, laughing, with Jalana and Junior at his side, “even if we don’t think they are.”

The phrase is one of the dozens Senior has drilled into his children over the years. Like any teenager, Lenny finds his dad a bit repetitive. The constant lessons can be irritating at times. But then other times Junior will hear some other authority figure say the same exact thing; or he’ll experience a situation his father warned him about; or he’ll accidentally repeat one of his dad’s sayings to a local reporter and then—and only then—he’ll begrudgingly admit that yes, dad, you were right about that.

Senior is a talker. It’s no secret. He warns people before conversations that he might ramble on for hours, and he usually does. When it comes to his kids, that rambling goes into overdrive. Senior was never spoken to as a child. “It was either physical, or it was the silent treatment,” Senior said. He’s never wanted his own children to have that experience.

So he has a series of sayings, phrases, guidelines. Rules about properly representing the family, about always finishing what you start, about always giving your best effort, about respect and gratitude. He’s said them all probably thousands of times; and, yes, his children do listen to them, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

Of all the phrases, though, there’s one in particular that Senior holds dear. One that’s undeniably true. It’s a phrase Senior tries to tell his son every single day. He wants him to always hold onto it, to never forget its impact. It’s the very essence of Lineras Torres. It’s the story behind the name. It’s family. It’s love.

“The difference between you and me,” says Senior to Junior, “is me.”

Junior has what his father never had. 

He has a Senior.

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