Villanueva's big league dreams coming true

Padres infielder thinks of late brother after second career homer

September 22nd, 2017

SAN DIEGO -- can't hear them, but he knows they're there.

He's too locked in, trying to make the most of the at-bats he's waited so long for, to allow the cheers of his family to crack his mind. Villanueva, a 26-year-old getting his first experience in the Major Leagues, has given them good reason to celebrate, homering in back-to-back games, including Thursday's 3-0 victory over the Rockies, four appearances into his career.

He's done it in front of his wife, son, mother and siblings, who have erupted passionately after each hit. The noise passes by Villanueva, but their presence does not go unfelt.

"It's really special," Villanueva said through a team interpreter. "It's amazing. I had my family here seeing me. [I'm] also helping the team win. It's really unforgettable."

Villanueva, a third baseman in his third organization and ninth professional season, was a top 100 prospect for the Rangers before the 2012 campaign. Traded to the Cubs that year, he soon found himself behind eventual National League MVP .

After a broken ankle cost Villanueva all of 2016, he signed a Minor League deal with the Padres in the offseason. His older brother, Eduardo, died unexpectedly during Spring Training.

So Wednesday, when he sent a grounder up the middle against Arizona's Robbie Ray for his first Major League hit, Villanueva felt a sense of release.

"The pressure went out," he said, "the butterflies out of my stomach."

He stroked his first home run two at-bats later.

"I couldn't ask for more," he said. "The best moment of my life."

He had to work to get the ball back after the game, signing autographs and taking pictures for the fans who caught it. Villanueva did not hold onto it for long. He passed the ball along to his mom, Rosario, the woman he called "my whole world." As mothers do, Rosario felt her son's struggles along the way.

His success means as much to her as it does to him.

"It's been a huge season for her, too," Villanueva said. "For as much as she's supported me throughout my career, to finally see me up here, it's a really special season for her."

Rosario was still in the crowd Thursday when Villanueva sent 's 0-2 changeup out to left for his second home run in as many days.

He came through again with an RBI single in the sixth. After earning a promotion by hitting .296 with 20 home runs for Triple-A El Paso, Villanueva is 4-for-12 with an .833 slugging percentage for the Padres.

Manager Andy Green said Villanueva, a right-handed batter, will continue to start against left-handed pitching.

"For us, to see what Christian's done, it's fun," Green said. "We're pleased to give him an opportunity and even more pleased to watch him take advantage of it."

Although he doesn't hear their ovations, Villanueva is motivated by his family. That includes Eduardo.

"I know that he and God are two of the reasons that I'm here," Villanueva said before his debut. "It was hard, of course. But he was the brother that most pushed me. He wanted to see this. It was a dream for him."

If their cheers are any indication, the whole family dreamed of Villanueva reaching this point. So far, he's made the most of this reality.