Food

Family, food and his beloved animals helped Colorado Rockies’ Raimel Tapia turn season around

Jul. 3—DENVER — After every home game, Raimel Tapia has a special piece of home waiting for him.

His wife, Stency Scencion, or his brother, Rafael, who lives with him in Denver, prepare him a traditional Dominican Republic meal of chicken, rice and beans. They pack it up in a container, and send it with him to the ballpark so it’s ready to eat after the last out.

It reminds him of home, a place he cherishes deep in his heart, and his family and friends he isn’t able to see often. Most of all, it brings a sense of familiarity and comfort.

“I used to eat that so much as a kid,” he said through former Rockies star Vinny Castilla, a special assistant to the general manager, who served as a translator for the interview. “When I don’t eat that, I feel empty.”

Tapia is from San Pedro de Macorís, a city on the east side of the Dominican Republic. The youngest of seven kids, Tapia has three brothers, all of whom played at some level of professional baseball. Antonio Linares played in the Phillies system, Rafael Tapia in the Orioles organization and Jose Linares in the Dominican Republic.

None found the success that Tapia has, but all have helped in his development. Antonio Linares was one of his first coaches, and still instructs youth leagues back home. Tapia will send bats and gloves to him for the kids to use, and tries to stay as involved as he can.

The two get to see each other every time Tapia comes to New York. This year that happened in May, at a time when Tapia was on one of the worst slumps of his career, batting .164 with 12 strikeouts in a 16-game stretch. Helmet tosses and broken bats became a regular occurrence at the end of his at-bats as his frustrations grew.

Antonio Linares and Tapia talked baseball that day, as two people who love the sport typically do. But it was mainly just about brothers catching up and enjoying a rare moment together.

“He’s always waiting for me when we get to New York and New Jersey,” Tapia said at the time. “It’s mostly about family and having a good time.”

The meeting played a key part in helping him relax, and it wasn’t long before Tapia exploded on an 18-game hitting streak, the second longest in the major leagues this season. His batting average for June was .345, with 15 doubles and 12 RBIs. He also led the majors with doubles for the month and ranked second in hits with 39.

As he rode the best streak of his career, his superstitions grew stronger. He had to get his chicken, rice and beans every day, and he never tired of his favorite meal.

On the road, when he doesn’t have access to his wife’s and Rafael’s cooking, he settles for pizza, typically a large one with bacon, pepperoni and extra cheese from Domino’s. Sometimes he eats the whole thing, other times he orders extra to share with his teammates.

In Seattle on June 23, when his hitting streak came to an end, he still ordered pizza back at the team hotel. But it was more of a pity meal. It didn’t taste nearly as good as it did when he was on a roll.

It’s not just about food. Tapia has developed a precise pregame routine he needs to follow every day. After hitting in the cage and on the field, Tapia will Facetime his family in the Dominican Republic. But don’t be fooled — he isn’t calling for them. Rather, he needs to check in on his beloved animals.

Tapia has always loved animals, and he purchased a farm in 2017, at the same time as he was breaking into the major leagues. His family will hold up the phone so he can see his cows, goats, pigs, turkeys and a lake filled with his precious crabs.

Last year, when the season was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tapia went back home and practiced with his furry friends. He took batting practice among the cows, and flipped over giant tires in the pastures.

When it’s game time, his family and friends will come over to watch at his parents house. His mother, Mercedes Linares, will connect a laptop to the television screen so they can stream the game. She’s too nervous to watch Tapia hit, so she’ll run out of the room when he’s at the plate and come back when something good happens.

Luckily for her, she’s had plenty of things to cheer about lately. Even though Tapia’s streak is over, he’s in the middle of a career-defining season, and has solidified his spot as the Rockies’ leadoff hitter.

At the end of each night, clad in a vibrant outfit with his blond dreadlocks flowing behind him, Tapia carries the remnants from his postgame meal as he walks from the clubhouse across the field to the players parking lot. He’s excited about the season he’s having, but even prouder to be able to share it with those he cherishes most.

“I hear them saying good things about how well I’m playing,” Tapia said. “It feels good. I take pride in the Dominican and the way they speak about me right now.”

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