José Salas Jr., who trained Red Sox prospect Daniel Flores and “basically adopted him,” had no shortage of words to describe the 17-year-old catcher whose death was reported Wednesday.
“Honest, sincere, a hard-worker, an excellent son who was always smiling,” Salas said during an interview Thursday evening. “He was an elevated human being . . . He really was somebody that was just on another level.”
The Red Sox said he died from complications during treatment for cancer. Salas said Flores was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of testicular cancer that had metastasized. The cancer had spread to Flores’s lungs, he said.
The Venezuelan teenager spent time in the Dominican Republic and in Fort Myers, Fla., working with Red Sox instructors in advance of his anticipated professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2018.
According to Salas, Flores was a man before he ever had a chance to be a boy. Salas said Flores slept on dirt floors as a child, and helped lift his mother, Rosa Urbaneja, and his 10-year-old sister out of poverty.
“Daniel Flores taught us a lot of things,” Salas said. “Humor, confidence, willpower — what a willpower, wow, what a willpower . . . ”
Salas said Flores had 14 tryouts for 14 different organizations, “back-to-back-to-back-to-back,” but he never complained. After a particularly grueling 11-hour tryout, he was back on the field at 7 a.m. the next day for another team.
“There’s nothing much to say,” Salas said, his voice cracking. “Two Tuesdays ago he was hitting line-drives to 95-mile-per-hour fastballs.”
Salas said Flores had complained of back pain but insisted “it’s okay,” attributing the pain to a pulled muscle or “just a bad night.” He would be dead within days of the diagnosis, according to Salas.
Salas noted that all of Flores’s bloodwork as well as all of his physical exams before signing the Red Sox contract came back clear. “No signs, no follow-ups, no nothing . . . We did every little test and he was fine,” he said.
“When we saw it was bad, we did CT scans, X-rays, and stuff, and it was way too late, it was already too late,” Salas said. “He was so strong that he wouldn’t feel pain . . . There were no indications, nothing suspicious, no negligence, there was nothing . . . I don’t know what to tell you.”
According to Salas, Flores was a healthy teen, who never even drank protein shakes, much less dabble in steroids.
“I do not believe in steroids, I do not believe in protein shakes, I don’t believe in any of that,” Salas said.
Flores had a $3.1 million signing bonus with the Red Sox and it’s unclear how much was paid out, but, according to Salas, Flores never recklessly spent the money.
“Not one earring, not one tattoo, not one misbehavior, not one late night party, not even clothes — he was just an angel, flat out an angel,” he said.
Salas agreed with the sentiment that Flores’s fans shared online: Venezuela, amid political turmoil, is now in mourning.
“Little League Baseball is shut down, pretty much,” Salas said, noting that children of all ages looked up to Flores. “He’s a role model . . . He’s a true, legit testimony of hard work, faith, honesty, and willpower.”
Flores will be cremated, Salas said, and his ashes flown back to Venezuela for a “celebration of his life” to be held at the auditorium at the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas.
“We need to avoid that the pain becomes suffering,” Salas said. “Sustained pain becomes suffering, Daniel does not deserve to be suffered. He will not be suffered, he will be celebrated. Everybody in the industry of baseball has to celebrate an angel like that.”
Salas said Flores, in his short 17-years, never knew hatred or envy. Instead, the poor kid from the country, whose mother sold empanadas on the street, was a giver and lover.
“He didn’t get to the majors in baseball,” Salas said. “[But] in life, he’s a Hall of Famer.”