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Jeurys Familia builds a house for his family in Dominican Republic

Jeurys Familia of the Mets celebrates after the

Jeurys Familia of the Mets celebrates after the final out of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The gleaming new house rises over a familiar street in the Dominican Republic, a testament to hard work and discipline, to patience and planning, to devotion and family.

Jeurys Familia, the youngest son of a gas station attendant and a shopkeeper, envisioned its foundation long before workers laid down the first brick.

"All the time I have been up here, I have been depositing money in my mom's account every month, to slowly build up the account to finish building the house," said Familia, who has thrived in his first year as Mets closer. "I started it when I first signed."

The building of the house has mirrored Familia's baseball career, a project that has evolved over time. What was once just a hazy vision has become a brilliant reality.

In just one year, the 25-year-old righthander has gone from the brink of a demotion to becoming one of the most dependable closers in the National League.

With 18 saves and a 1.21 ERA, Familia has positioned himself to earn the first All-Star Game appearance of his career.

"I'm really proud of him," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Those kinds of players are the ones you tell your friends back home about.Those are the ones, when it's all said and done and you're retired, these are the guys you want to talk about."


In Boca Chica, home of the Mets in the Dominican Republic, they still talk a lot about Familia.

From the guards, to the kitchen staff, to the groundskeepers, few are surprised by what's become of the wide-shouldered kid with big hands and a bigger smile.

"From the time he first walked in here at the academy, he's been the same guy," said Juan Henderson, who oversees the Mets' Dominican operation. "He's an unbelievable human being. Very humble kid. Hard working."

It has been years since Familia first reached the academy in 2007, when he was signed by the Mets. But he remains a frequent visitor, often chatting with the team's younger players after finishing his own workouts.

"What he learns, he likes to pass it on," Henderson said.

So, Familia maintains a presence at the facility, where his photo is displayed along with the other alumni who have reached the major leagues.

"He's always thinking about how he was when he started," Henderson said.

The academy offers classes for players who want to learn English or earn a GED. Last November, Henderson asked Familia to attend. He showed up alongside several teammates he had persuaded to come along.

"I like to help because when I grew up, I had a lot of people help me," said Familia, whose new house is about an hour away. "If I can help somebody, say something about baseball, try to make them a better person, I'm going to do that."


At first, Familia didn't particularly care for baseball. But once it became his profession, he threw himself into the task of mastering it. It began during his earliest days at the academy.

"I knew that I could be great," he said. "I was not perfect, I was not a great pitcher, but I was hungry and I knew that if I was healthy, I could one day be somebody."

Now, he's become a leader of a Mets team with designs on making the postseason.

For years, Familia earned a reputation within the organization for his desire to get better. He quizzed veteran players constantly. He learned quickly.

In spring training, Collins watched with delight as Familia challenged some of his younger teammates, such as relief pitcher Hansel Robles.

"He got all over those guys like a cheap suit," Collins said, lighting up at the memory. "I love it."

From a television screen all the way in Boca Chica, Henderson can spot Familia's influence in New York. During a recent game, he noticed Robles pull off a quick pitch, a slice of gamesmanship that Familia picked up from former Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

In the spring, Familia had passed it on to Robles.


Growing up, Familia and his friends would choose a sport, play it for awhile, then move on to the next. Of all their choices, basketball suited him best.

He idolized Allen Iverson.

"In the beginning, I hated to play baseball," he said. "I hated being outside under the sun."

After awhile, Familia noticed that his friends came to the court less and less. With his friends spending more time at the ballfield, he realized that he was shooting hoops all alone.

Only then did he finally acquiesce to baseball.

"I played all positions," said Familia, whose fastball now averages 96.8 mph. "But I did not have a good arm."

It might have stayed that way had it not been for a Pittsburgh Pirates scout who noticed that Familia's hands could make baseballs look like eggs.

Familia was watching a local tryout camp when the scout approached him and grabbed his hands. "He said that if I ever wanted to make it, I needed to be a pitcher," said Familia, who had been playing mostly third base at the time. "I started pitching from that day on."

Word began to spread about a big-bodied righthander with a live fastball. The Mets inked him for $100,000. He was 17.

"The moment I signed I could not believe it," he said. "I started crying. But after signing, I sat down and discussed things with my dad and we knew we could not spend all the money buying a house." At least, not yet.


The dream house had to wait. But Familia didn't waste time coming up with a plan. It began with his signing bonus.

Immediately, Familia channeled money toward expanding and renovating the cramped house that his immediate family shared with an aunt.

"The rest I saved in the bank," he said. "My mom and dad opened a bank account and that is how they supported themselves. Once I moved to the U.S., I would not be worried about sending them money. I was also not earning any money."

Low-level minor-leaguers make a fraction of their big-league counterparts. Still, Familia banked what he could, adopting a routine that he has carried with him to the major leagues.

Players get paid twice a month. The first check went into a house fund. The second went into another savings account and toward living expenses. He never strayed from the plan.

"That's surprising for a young player," Henderson said. "He's very organized."

As he climbed the ladder, and the paychecks got bigger and bigger, it would have been easier for Familia to splurge. Even on the big-league minimum of roughly $500,000, he could afford plenty of luxuries.

Yet, he kept saving.

In the players' parking lot in Boca Chica, the large souped-up trucks often differentiate those who have earned a spot on the 40-man roster. But even now, Henderson said Familia drives a car that blends in whenever he drops by the academy.


Familia has yet to reach free agency or arbitration. His biggest paydays are still down the road. But whatever happens, he's already accomplished his biggest goal.

Late in 2012, Familia received a bonus for reaching the majors for the first time. With that, he purchased a spacious lot in a tight-knit neighborhood within his hometown of San Cristobal.

"That is where I grew up," he said. "It's a nice place, quiet, small, everyone knows each other."

In 2014, construction began. It would have happened sooner, but Familia first helped to pay for surgery to alleviate the leg pain that had afflicted his father since a childhood accident.

The house will be move-in ready next month, right around when Familia could be pitching in his first All-Star Game. "All the floors are ready," he said.

Only finishing touches remain, such as choosing the restroom fixtures and the furniture, a project that he has left to his fiancee, Bianca.

Familia left most of the design details to his parents -- just as he had hoped all along. They chose the distinctive red-tiled roof that splashes color onto the home's bright-white facade.

"I told my mom and dad to build the house the way they wanted," he said, "And I would pay for it."

With five bedrooms, there's plenty of space for Familia's parents, his three siblings and a nephew. One part of the house has been set aside for himself, his fiancee and his son, Jeurys Jr., who was born Friday night.

"For me, that was my dream since I can remember, giving my parents a new house," he said. "I feel so happy and glad. I am so thankful to God."

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