Making of Manny is no story without Yonder

Workout partners. Brothers-in-law. Alonso, Machado have unique bond

March 8th, 2021

The instructions were simple enough, and the skinny 16-year-old kid from Hialeah, Fla., committed them to memory.

Thirteen years later, recounts them word-for-word.

"It was: 'Meet me here at eight o'clock in the morning at the University of Miami,’" Machado says. "’Bring a gallon of water and bananas.'"

And -- for the first time in his life -- Machado got his butt kicked.

Machado ran. He did squats. (He had never done a proper squat before in his life.) He went through a series of lifts. He took ground balls. He hit. Then, he ran again.

When it was done, Machado was physically and mentally drained -- like never before in his life. A small part of him asked whether this was what he truly wanted.

Deep down, Machado already knew the answer. Of course this was what he wanted. He had dreamed of being a big leaguer for as long as he could remember. If this was what it took, he would meet his new workout partner at the gym at 8 a.m. the next day for Round 2.

Manny Machado and Yonder Alonso working out at the University of Miami (via Instagram)

As it would happen, that workout partner was a highly touted first-base prospect for the Reds named Yonder Alonso, drafted No. 7 overall out of Miami in 2008. Machado had been badgering Alonso about working out together a year before that.

But Alonso was a star at Miami and didn't want to jeopardize Machado's college eligibility. Alonso knew it wouldn't be long before he turned pro, so he gave Machado a message:

"If you really want to be great and you want to get to the big leagues, call me a year from now," Alonso said. "That way I'm not breaking any rules, and you're not breaking any rules.

"Sure enough, Manny waited a year and he called me, and he said, 'Hey, a year has passed. I'm ready to work out with you.' And I said, 'All right, be at the weight room at 8 in the morning. We're going to work.’ He was there, 8 in the morning, and we've been working out together since."

Baseball brothers

At the time, Machado realized he'd gained an incredibly valuable workout partner and mentor. He was a teenager who was beginning to garner hype in prospect circles. Alonso could show him the ropes.

What Machado didn't know at the time was the impact his relationship with Alonso would have outside of baseball. They became brothers, metaphorically. Then they became brothers-in-law, literally.

Alonso broke into the big leagues in 2010, the same year Machado was drafted No. 3 overall by the Orioles. By 2012, Alonso had been dealt to the Padres, and Machado would make a big league breakthrough of his own, earning an August callup with Baltimore in the midst of a pennant race.

Machado and Alonso still spent their offseasons together. Grueling workouts in the mornings. Time with each other's families in the afternoons and evenings. They played video games, they shot hoops, they watched Netflix.

It was then that Machado met Alonso's sister, Yainee, and suddenly Machado wasn't merely coming over to spend time with Yonder. Machado and Yainee Alonso began dating in 2011, fell in love, were engaged in ‘13 and married in December ‘14.

Manny Machado and his wife, Yainee Alonso (Via Getty)

"I'm proud," Machado said of Yonder, "to call him my brother."

Alonso established himself as an impactful big league first baseman, though he dealt with injuries and never quite realized his full potential in San Diego. Prior to the 2016 season, he was dealt to Oakland for left-hander Drew Pomeranz. A year later, Alonso was named to the '17 All-Star team -- fittingly in Miami.

In the meantime, Machado had blossomed into a superstar. He was a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover in Baltimore. When Machado hit free agency during the 2018-19 offseason at just 26 years old, he was a generational prize -- an elite player just entering his prime.

Home away from home

The Padres weren't Machado's first suitor. In fact, they didn't enter the conversation until late December 2018, after general manager A.J. Preller grew frustrated with the other third-base options (or lack thereof) on the market.

Preller convinced ownership that Machado was worth the price tag, and the Padres began their pursuit. But Preller's interest was only half of the equation. Having spent his entire career in the American League East, Machado didn’t know what to expect from San Diego.

Luckily, he knew someone who did. Alonso spent four seasons there and raved about it. Yainee visited often, and she loved it, too.

"I knew he was going to really enjoy it, and he was going to really take in how lucky he is to play in San Diego," Alonso said.

There was only one problem: Alonso had signed with the White Sox that offseason. The White Sox, as luck would have it, wanted Machado badly. Alonso could've sold Machado on a future in Chicago -- and a season where they'd get to play together on the same team for the first time.

But this was family. The man Alonso considered a brother had a hugely important life decision to make. There would be no room for posturing. Alonso shot straight.

"Look, I think it was a very easy conversation," Alonso said. "Manny said, 'Hey, San Diego called, they're interested in me. I'm meeting A.J. soon.' I said, 'If you go to San Diego you'll probably never come back to Miami.'"

Alonso was kidding, of course. Miami is in Machado's blood. But Alonso also knew that San Diego could legitimately become a second home for his sister and his brother-in-law, the way it had been for him.

"We've always been welcomed there," Alonso said. "I think that it's an easy city to get along with. The people are incredible, the culture is incredible. I think the Latin culture there, as well, is incredible."

Machado was sold on the city, sold on the baseball market and sold on the fanbase. As Alonso recalls, he merely needed to hear Preller's vision for the Padres' future.

"It comes down to Manny making the decision, and I definitely think he made the right decision," Alonso said. "He wants to be in a winning culture, a winning attitude, a winning foundation -- not only for now but for the long haul. He thought he was definitely going to get that in San Diego and, you know, we're seeing it happen."

'Hitting coach'

At long last, 2020 brought the chance for Machado and Alonso to become teammates. But their reunion took place under different circumstances than they ever could've imagined.

Alonso was with Atlanta when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. When the season resumed, he opted not to report to the team's alternate site, and the Braves began looking for a trade partner. The Padres couldn't offer Alonso much more than Atlanta. He'd have to start at the team's alternate site and, barring injuries, almost certainly wouldn't reach the big leagues.

Alonso knew his career was winding down, and he began thinking of his final chapter. He wanted to spend it in San Diego.

"They always took care of me," Alonso said. "That's the place that saw me grow -- into a man, into a person, into a dad. Going back there was just a cherry on top. I also knew my time was coming to an end -- it's got to come to an end at some point for everybody."

The Padres traded cash to Atlanta to acquire Alonso on Aug. 11. A few days later, he passed COVID-19 intake screening and greeted his new roommates -- Yainee and Manny.

"It was awesome, actually," Machado said. "Obviously I wish he would've been up in the big leagues with us. But he was there watching the games and going to games. Then, being able to talk with him after games instead of just a phone call -- talk strategy, talk this pitcher, that pitcher -- it just felt great."

To be clear: The Padres didn't merely acquire Alonso to appease Machado. Preller had gotten to know Alonso well from Alonso's first stint in San Diego. When Preller visited Machado during the 2019-20 offseason, Alonso joined, and they chatted for hours around a table full of chicken wings.

Alonso, the Padres felt, would be a gold mine of information for their prospects at the alternate site. He was bilingual and had a wealth of knowledge to offer the team's pitchers and hitters. The Padres boasted one of the most impressive farm systems in the sport, and Alonso was there to help make it better.

That didn't take very long. Alonso's first at-bat at the team's alternate site came against 21-year-old left-hander Adrian Morejon. He picked up a tell in Morejon's delivery that gave away one of his offspeed pitches. The team quickly corrected it.

"This guy's been in the big leagues, he's done it for 10 years," said Padres international scouting director Chris Kemp, who helped run the team's alternate site. "I've never been around a true player coach before. ... But he brought a lot to our young players and to our staff. It was a really good experience, having Yonder at the alt site."

The reality of the 2020 schedule was that Machado and Alonso didn't spend all that much time together. The alternate site games took place in the mornings or early afternoons. By the time Alonso was returning home, Machado was headed out.

When they did get to spend time together, the constraints of the pandemic limited their options. For the most part, they played video games -- Call of Duty Warzone, specifically. They also spent time playing with Machado's two dogs. And, of course, they talked baseball.

"A lot of the time, I felt like his hitting coach, his mental coach, his fun coach -- a little bit of everything," Alonso said.

Said Machado: "A lot of things were weird last year, and we really were fortunate to have him and have the family together."

With his new roommate and hitting coach, Machado was on his way to one of the best seasons of his career and a third-place finish in National League MVP Award voting.

Full circle

The Padres reached the postseason and beat the Cardinals in a thrilling three-game Wild Card Series last October, before bowing out to the Dodgers in the NLDS. Alonso knew what came next.

After 10 accomplished big league seasons -- he hit 100 home runs, batted .259/.332/.404, reached an All-Star Game in 2017 and a postseason in '18 -- it was time for Alonso to hang 'em up.

"Mixed emotions, but happy feelings," Alonso said, and he instantly began to reflect on the events that brought him here. The Alonso family -- Yonder, Yainee and their parents -- defected from Cuba in a small plane when Yonder was 8 years old. Alonso's father got a job in a warehouse and rented a one-bedroom house for the four of them.

It wasn't much, but it was enough to provide Alonso with a path to achieve his dreams.

"I was just very fortunate to play for such a long time," Alonso said. "You know, we're talking about myself who came to this country at a very young age. Literally, my parents sacrificed so much, day in and day out. I never would have ever thought I would have played in my dream school at the University of Miami, never would have thought I'd be a first rounder, never would have thought I would have played for San Diego who, for me, is the greatest city in the big leagues."

That Alonso got to retire as a Padre is a point of pride for both him and his brother-in-law.

"Looking back, it's just awesome he can look back at this beautiful career he had in the game of baseball," Machado said. "He came from Cuba to become something, and he reached his goal."

Alonso is eager to become just a fan of the game in retirement. He'll watch every Padres game, he says, and he's spent time on MLB Network in recent weeks, doing what he loves -- just talking ball.

Right now, however, Alonso is focused on his volunteer work at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami. He'll figure out the rest of his retirement plans later, but they'll probably include golf and lots of long bike rides.

Last offseason -- well, Machado's offseason, at least -- the two brothers-in-law returned to their fabled workout site at the University of Miami for another winter of work. This time, Alonso threw batting practice to Machado. The workouts were every bit as grueling as they were 13 years ago, but by now Machado has learned to love them.

The paths of Alonso and Machado represent a full-circle picture of baseball in San Diego. Alonso is from an era many fans would like to forget, when the Padres wore blue and made fourth-place finishes a habit. Machado represents the beginning of something new, an era of Padres baseball that could bring unprecedented success -- and perhaps even that elusive first championship.

Padres fans, understandably, would prefer to keep their focus on the latter. But Alonso's career deserves a hat tip in San Diego -- for his time spent on the field in the past, for his impact on one of the team's brightest stars in the present.

As the boring old Padres give way to the flashy new Padres -- as Yonder cedes the stage to his brother-in-law Manny -- it's worth remembering how it’s all tied together. The Yonder Alonso era and the Manny Machado era. Yonder Alonso and Manny Machado.

Without one, the other probably isn't so special.