SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Andres Torres catches himself as he loses focus and begins to glance all over the room, then apologizes. Even though he can’t help it. San Francisco’s center fielder deals every day with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Diagnosed in 2002 while with Detroit, Torres didn’t begin taking medication until five years later in 2007. That has made a drastic difference — and helped him become a steady big leaguer at last.
The switch-hitting Torres toiled through parts of 12 years in the minors — eight of those at the Triple-A level — before getting his shot. He was long told that at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds he was just too small to make it in the majors.
Until everybody found out otherwise last season with the World Series champion Giants.
Torres became a regular in May, giving San Francisco a reliable leadoff man with a sure-handed glove and speed in center. This spring feels different for Torres. He has a spot on the roster and probably a starting job.
“It’s not that I’m relaxed. It’s just I know I’m at least going to be here,” Torres said. “My whole career I never knew what was going to happen to me. This year, for the first time in my career, I’m more calm. I feel like I deserve to be here. The years before I just tried to make the team. I’m going to keep it the same, keep working hard, keep doing my best. I’m not going to take anything for granted.”
He now takes a pill for ADHD before every game, and that has helped Torres to better focus on one task when his mind used to scatter in so many directions that he had a tough time staying focused.
“I get distracted. You see me looking everywhere,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes even with medication.”
Torres’ plight to reach the majors after a modest upbringing in Puerto Rico and his struggles with ADHD will be the subject of a documentary due out this summer. He is thrilled to share his story, hoping it can only help others.
Last month, Torres received a $2.2 million, one-year contract that includes an additional $100,000 that he can earn in performance bonuses — a hefty raise from the $426,000 he made in 2010. He is now a megacelebrity in his home country.
Torres batted .268 with 16 home runs and 63 RBIs in his first full big league season, then played through pain throughout the playoffs. He surprised the Giants and even himself with a rapid recovery to return from an emergency appendectomy late in the year to help San Francisco in the stretch run.
After such a long wait to be a contributor, there was no way Torres would stay on the sideline during such an important time for the franchise.
Torres had the procedure Sept. 12 in San Diego and played again Sept. 24 — missing all of 11 games. His fitness level and determination helped him return so soon. Manager Bruce Bochy had all but ruled out Torres for the remainder of the regular season.
“It was tough,” he said of the pain from surgery. “I’ve been through a lot. I’m going to be there and keep doing that. I’m not going to quit. I’ve been at the point of my career when I’ve almost been out of the game. I’ve been through so many situations that I’ve learned to come through things, even when I’m struggling or I’m hurt.”
Torres said he felt discomfort when he ran, made a diving catch or any other sudden movement. He wasn’t about to complain. He needed the winter to truly heal, even if the offseason was shortened by a month because of the team’s improbable title run.
“It is ironic he was able to come back so fast because of the type of player he is,” general manager Brian Sabean said. “He’s full-out, especially on the basepaths. I don’t doubt that now, hearing that (he played through pain).”
Still, Torres hit .276 with a home run and three RBIs in 15 postseason games. He hit four doubles and stole two bases.
Everybody around the Giants was happy for Torres, who has committed only three errors in the majors.
“More so because he’s a great person,” Sabean said. “You know what it means to him personally but more so his family or his loved ones who have stuck by him. That’s something that makes it even more rewarding. And he was a huge help. He hadn’t had a full season of healthy baseball at the major league level. In that sense he may have exceeded even his own expectations.”
In the clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium, Torres can be seen reaching out his hand to greet the minor leaguers and offer them words of encouragement. Not long ago, he was one of those guys — for years.
Bochy won’t go as far as to name Torres the opening day starter in center at this early stage despite his breakout 2010 showing, but he will be in the mix for sure. Veteran Aaron Rowand, who is making $12 million this season, will have the chance to win back his job in center though Torres is the leading candidate.
“Andres is someone we need in the lineup,” Bochy said. “He had a career year and became one of the better leadoff hitters in the game.”
Torres was recognized as the team’s 2010 “Willie Mac” Award winner. The honor is named for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey and is voted on by the players, coaches and training staff to recognize the team’s most inspirational player both on the field and in the clubhouse.
Torres is dedicated this spring to becoming more disciplined at the plate, waiting for his pitch.
“I’ve been watching him from the other side,” said new Giants shortstop Miguel Tejada, who spent part of last season with the rival San Diego Padres. “He’s the type of guy who always wants to be in the big situation. He always wants to talk about baseball and he has been asking my advice about what he can do to be a better hitter. He knows they all know him now because of what he did last year and winning the World Series.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)