Emotions washed over George Lopez in a wave of memories, details from his life with his grandfather. The Orioles’ right-handed reliever had gone back to Puerto Rico to be there – as he had to be. His grandfather was there for Lopez, after all.
Missing a few games meant nothing more than saying goodbye.
“He did a lot for us,” Lopez said. “I wanted to do more for him. Here’s the thing: I feel like he owed me more.”
He gave Lopez baseball for one. Every day after his grandfather came home from work—he spent 35 years with the police, served as a narcotics traffic captain—he and Lopez sat down on the couch and turned on baseball. His grandfather used to explain to him through each play why a player did what he did.
When Lopez plays in the park near his home, his grandfather will stand by the stands and encourage him. He joined López in his first traveling baseball tournament outside his hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico. Lopez will never forget the feeling of winning that tournament – but even better was the feeling of sharing that victory with his grandfather.
Once López reached the major leagues, now acting as a close to the Orioles, López’s grandfather would call almost every day. They would definitely talk baseball. His grandfather would tell López how well he was playing, then tell López how he was telling everyone he heard in Caguas, despite suffering from dementia before his death last month at the age of 78.
“That was the man,” Lopez said. “To me, he is my father.”
It all came to Lopez’s mind when he saw his grandfather’s coffin in Puerto Rico last month. It’s a reminder of who helped Lopez Reach this point – holding 0.82 ERA with 10 saves for the Orioles. But more importantly, it reminded Lopez of all the people he relies on and from whom he learns.
As the 29-year-old contemplates the unbalanced nature of parenthood—how her grandfather gave her more to repay Lopez than ever—it reinforced another perspective. Instead of paying back to his grandfather or mother, he could pay back to his son, Mikel, as proved by his grandfather.
“She’s an inspiration to my family,” Lopez said. “He taught us a lot.”
If anyone wants to grow up to emulate Lopez, it’s her grandfather. And as López continues to learn what it takes for Mikel to be a father, he thinks back to the example of his grandfather and mother growing up in Puerto Rico.
Baseball for Lopez goes deeper than many people. There are balls and strikes, but when a game plays on them, Lopez feels there is support for her son riding on those pitches as well. Mikel, who celebrated his 9th birthday with the Orioles in Boston last month, has battled several autoimmune disorders since his birth.
There are no easy days. The combination of familial Mediterranean fever and Crohn’s disease means that Mikel spends most of his life in the hospital, with Lopez’s wife, Carla, the primary caretaker. Mikel had an intestinal transplant when he was a little over a year old. Last year, a bone marrow transplant offered a major improvement, allowing Mikel to see his father’s pitch in person against the Red Sox for the first time in three years.
It was a happy moment. Lopez greets Mikel as his teammates walk through the clubhouse in Fenway Park. The team surprised Mikel with two cakes – both car themed – and sang happy birthday.
But such moments have been few and far between for Mikel and his father, as Lopez navigates parenthood and a grueling baseball career.
“I’ve been pretty much his whole life,” Lopez said. “For me, being the best dad isn’t what I’m going through right now. I know it’s coming, though. I just have faith. I try to keep learning about it and just trust And until now, my wife has been huge all my life, and I think it helped me achieve everything.
That’s where Lopez’s mom comes in too. Whenever he has questions about parenthood or how to handle a certain situation, he’s the one to call. However, she is not the one to explain things over the phone, so she will book a flight and teach it in person.
Lessons began early, before Lopez’s mother realized her son was paying attention. He said that Lopez’s sister, Yani, has an oral disorder. Watching her mother take care of her—never treating her as if she were different from her other children—helped Lopez understand the care and patience needed with Mikel in her situation.
Lopez said of her mother, “He’s my father, he’s my mom, she’s my best friend, she’s my everything,” Lopez said of her mother, who loved Lopez and her siblings. was raised as a single mother when Lopez’s parents divorced at the age of 10. “By looking at him, talking through those topics… that’s our connection.”
In the weeks following the death of Lopez’s grandfather, the chance to bring Mikel to Boston for his 9th birthday was everything. He knows he can’t be there all the time – and he eats it up, remembering those moments with his son. But the moments he can share, he plans to cherish even more, are grateful for the opportunity to become a father.
And grateful to the parent figures who brought him here, setting an example of what he can be like to Mikel.
“Just getting help. Trying to find nice people who are going to help you,” Lopez said. “I’m not afraid of it, and so I’m still going. [Mikael is] I have a big motivation, but we need more help sometimes. … I just keep learning. Just keep learning, and try to be a better person, a better father, a better husband.”