Javy Baez’s sister has spina bifida, but it doesn’t stop her support
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist August 10, 2014 7:28PM
Javy Baez's sister, Noely (left), and mother, Nelly, take in the scene before the game Sunday at Wrigley Field. | RICK MORRISSEY/SUN-TIMES
Updated: September 12, 2014 6:27AM
He’s a big-leaguer now and very much big-league cool in the way he carries himself, but Javy Baez also happens to be a big brother.
So when he stepped into the on-deck circle recently at Wrigley Field, he couldn’t help but take a peek at his sister, who was sitting in a section behind home plate.
That would be Noely, his biggest fan. The big-leaguer gave her a Little Leaguer’s smile.
‘‘She loves when I come to the plate,’’ Baez said Sunday before the Cubs’ game against the Rays. ‘‘When they announce my name, she goes crazy.’’
Noely, 20, has spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord isn’t completely developed. She is confined to a wheelchair but not defined by it. Baez’s fledgling Cubs career has been notable for its ups and downs: three home runs in his first three games and 10 strikeouts in his first 23 at-bats. He had a throwing error and a run-scoring single in the fifth inning Sunday.
His sister is at peace with the extremes.
‘‘I cheer for him no matter what,’’ Noely said as she sat with her family.
When she was born, doctors didn’t think she’d live long. They were wrong.
‘‘People think we’ve got a sister with a problem, but it’s not a problem; it’s a miracle from God,’’ her brother Rolando said. ‘‘We’re real blessed to have her. That’s the way we all think. That’s the way we all grew up — with a blessing from God in our family.’’
The family, including mother Nelly and brother Gadiel, flew to Denver for the 21-year-old Baez’s major-league debut Tuesday. When he crossed home plate after hitting a 12th-inning home run, he pointed to Noely in the stands.
The family moved on to Chicago for the three-game series against the Rays. As expected, Cubs fans gave the rookie a huge ovation in his Wrigley debut Friday. As expected, Noely loved it.
The Baez family doesn’t see her limitations.
‘‘We don’t treat her different,’’ Baez said. ‘‘She’s a normal person. We take it slow with her. She can do everything a normal person can do. She’s in a wheelchair. You’ve got to help her to do some things, but that’s it.’’
The family moved from Puerto Rico to the United States nine years ago, looking for better medical care for Noely. She has thrived, graduating from high school.
‘‘It was way better for her in the U.S. than it was in Puerto Rico,’’ Baez said. ‘‘It was getting worse over there, so my mom decided to move here.’’
‘‘Here’’ initially was North Carolina, where the medical care was excellent but the baseball wasn’t year-round. A certain 12-year-old informed his mother they had to move to an area where he could play more often or he would move back to Puerto Rico with one of his brothers. He knew he was good. He wanted to see how good he could be.
That’s how the family ended up in Jacksonville, Fla. When Baez transferred to Arlington Country Day School for his junior year of high school, he soared as a baseball player. The Cubs signed him out of high school, and his ride to the big leagues has been a blur of big swings.
Being a major-leaguer was a dream of his as a child, but it was distant and faint. The older he got, the more distinct the dream became.
‘‘When you’re in Triple-A and Double-A, you keep working and come back the next day and do what you do,’’ Baez said. ‘‘I knew I was going to be a big-leaguer any time. It could have been this year. It could have been next year. But I was working every day like it was the last day of the season.’’
Baez knows about persevering. His father, Angel, died in 2004 after falling in the shower.
‘‘Life changed,’’ Baez said. ‘‘But I bet he’s happy for me and for my family. I always have him in my mind. I’m doing this for my sister and for him.’’
It’s one of the reasons he took the time to turn and acknowledge his sister.
‘‘He knows what he’s doing and what he needs to do,’’ said Rolando, who played minor-league ball in the Padres’ system. ‘‘He’s gone through a lot of things and put in a lot of hard work. Now he’s here, and he gives a look back because he knows where he came from.’’
And who is always there for him.