For Christian Vazquez, Fenway Park represents a refuge. It is the place where his mind can settle and focus.
Away from the ballpark is another matter. The native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, continues to wrestle with the heartbreak of the devastation on his island in the wake of Hurricane Maria, unable to bring himself to look at the images of destruction and once-familiar areas that have been rendered, in some cases, unrecognizable.
“Here, I’m concentrating on winning the division and winning every day,” Vazquez said. “When I’m out of the ballpark, I’m thinking a lot about [Puerto Rico]. . . . I don’t look [at the pictures], because it’s too sad. The pictures and videos are very sad and disturb me a lot, seeing the pictures of my island destroyed.”
Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 19 and pummeled the nation of some 3.3 million residents for more than 24 hours. It took two days after the storm for Vazquez to re-establish contact with his family, but he’s now in daily communication with his mother, father, and grandfather. He considers himself and his family relatively lucky, given that the storm downed some trees on their property but didn’t do more extreme damage. Even so, Puerto Rico remains without power and running water.
From afar, such realities are difficult to comprehend. Vazquez has talked with fellow Puerto Rican Yadier Molina of the Cardinals about their efforts to assist in relief efforts, and he expressed a desire to participate in Red Sox plans to help organize collections and contributions to the relief effort at Fenway Park this weekend.
“I’m open to everything to help my country and my people,” Vazquez said.
In a sign of solidarity, Vazquez dyed his hair blond this week, mimicking a bonding moment made by members of Team Puerto Rico during this spring’s World Baseball Classic.
“I want to represent that to all my teammates from Puerto Rico and my country,” Vazquez said.
To Vazquez, the best way that he can show his pride is by continuing to excel on the field, continuing to perform at a level that puts his shock of blond hair on screens and perhaps lets people think of him as a member of both the Red Sox and a representative of Puerto Rico.
In that regard, he’s excelling. The 27-year-old has a .294 batting average, .333 on-base percentage, and .413 slugging percentage with five homers in 95 games this season, with a late-season surge (.361/.402/.546 since July 29) that has been paired with excellent defense to position Vazquez as a central contributor in the Sox’ push toward the playoffs.
Such performances, he hopes, offer some measure of distraction or encouragement back at home — while his job offers him a small refuge from the concerns that he feels when not on the field. When the playoffs are done, Vazquez said, he plans to return to Puerto Rico. But for now, he hopes to do all he can to represent his home with honor.
“I’ve got to continue playing here, play for my country and for my teammates here,” he said.