PEORIA, Ariz. — They all wear midnight blue and white, but some bleed green and orange.
The San Diego Padres have five players in camp -- including two non-roster invitees -- that attended the University of Miami: first baseman Yonder Alonso, center fielder Blake Tekotte and catchers Yasmani Grandal, Jason Hagerty and Eddy Rodriguez.
“Every time we play with a fellow teammate or someone that played at Miami, it’s really like a family,” Grandal said. “Even if you didn’t play with them, we all know each other.”
Grandal and Alonso came from the Cincinnati Reds in a five-player deal for pitcher Mat Latos. Both players speak passionately about “the U,” as Miami is commonly referred to. Although the school is mostly known for football, its baseball program is just as rich in history.
They’re just two of 38 former Hurricanes on professional baseball rosters from a program that in baseball circles is widely known as one of the best in the country.
“The only reason they talk about the football team is because the publicity they get, but we’ve had almost the same history as they have,” Grandal said. “We’re a good program as well. I think both programs are known nationwide. It’s just a good system they got there whether it’s for football or baseball. We’ve both been successful.”
Grandal spent three seasons as a Hurricane. He played with Alonso during his freshman year. He said Alonso taught him a lot, including how to lead the team.
“That’s the thing about Miami, once you learn the system -- once you learn how to play Hurricane baseball – you try to pass that on,” Grandal said.
Grandal always saw former Hurricanes like Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and John Jay in the batting cages in the offseason. They always gave him tips to help him improve. The 53rd-ranked prospect by Baseball America said he always wanted to be listed with those players in the school’s media guide.
“More and more you see guys getting up and doing big things,” Grandal said. “Those big things go all the way back to the University of Miami.”
Grandal has a tattoo of the school’s logo inked inside of a baseball with a cross surrounding it. Alonso has a tattoo of the logo as well -- a big orange and green “U” on his shoulder.
“That says enough right there,” Alonso said when asked what the university means to him.
Alonso spent three seasons in Coral Gables, Fla. He still spends his offseason working out at the school’s facilities. Alonso grew up idolizing the program because he appreciated the way Miami played the game.
“A lot of swag,” Alonso said. “They knew they belonged, which is something big. You grow up watching them, imitating them and playing like them.”
At Miami, Alonso became good friends with Alex Rodriguez, who originally had committed to the Hurricanes in high school before he signed his first professional contract with the Seattle Mariners.
Their relationship started when Alonso asked Rodriguez if he could hit with him. Rodriguez thought it was funny Alonso wanted to compare himself to a professional baseball player, but agreed to Alonso’s request.
They went on to hit together for two months straight.
“Even to this day, I just talked to him a couple days ago and we were talking about how it was going with camp and (Padres manager) Bud Black,” Alonso said. “It’s just nice to have someone that knows the game that has been around the game for several years.”
Grandal and Alonso make sure to help current players on the team. It can become a difficult task now that they don’t reside on the East Coast for the majority of the year, but they understand how much the interaction with professional players benefited their play on the field.
“It’s a tradition, it’s an honor,” Alonso said. “With all of that said, you got to make sure you fit that role very well. If you don’t, it doesn’t sit very well with the people around there. You got to make sure that you not only carry it on the field but carry it outside the field, too.”