Dioner Navarro says it’s the World Series or bust for the Blue Jays.
Also, the veteran catcher really missed Toronto’s hot dog stands while he was playing for the White Sox.
Sportsnet recently caught up with Navarro, who played the last two season with the Blue Jays and made his return in late August just in time for a post-season push. Navarro talked about changes he’s noticed to this Blue Jays team compared to last season, his collection of pets, how he knew he was destined for the big leagues at age six, and more…
Sportsnet: You’re a huge Barcelona fan. What do you prefer, football or baseball?
Navarro: Football. As a fan. I don’t think I’m a fan of baseball, I’m a player of the game. I don’t think I have ever been able to sit down and watch a baseball game.
Yeah, I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I have, ever. Not even as a kid. We were too busy, we were being kids. Now I would much rather watch a soccer game than a baseball game.
Do you even like baseball?
[Laughs]. I love this game.
Does it feel like you never left Toronto?
Yes, it does. It’s amazing. They embrace me the same way since day one. It’s really gratifying.
What did you miss most about playing here?
I missed being around the guys, I missed the fans, I missed the fact that I lived two blocks away from the ballpark, so I can walk—I don’t have to deal with traffic, unlike Chicago. I just missed being around my guys, my friends, my brothers. That was the number one thing.
Any restaurants here you were dying to get back to?
The hot dog stands outside the ball park.
Thank you so much for bringing that up. Do you have a favourite stand?
[Laughs]. I don’t know the guy’s name, I just know when I’m coming from my apartment there’s three in a row, he’s the one in the middle. He knows me and as soon as he sees me, he knows what I want. He gets it going for me.
What’s your order?
Polish sausage. Then I put on onion, bacon, hot relish, ketchup and mustard. I eat there maybe once a series.
I love it. I grew up in Venezuela eating those types of hog dogs. It’s huge back there. They’re on the street—two, three blocks of just hot dog stand right next to hot dog stand. It was really cheap back then, and we didn’t have much money. We didn’t have three meals, we had one meal maybe two a day, so we kind of had to spread it out.
What was your childhood like in Caracas?
I grew up in a two-bedroom apartment, maybe 700-800 square feet. My older brother, me and my younger brother, we shared one room. There was a lot of fights. My older brother, we had a six-year span [between us] and then my younger brother, we’re only one year apart. So me and my younger brother were going at it all the time and my oldest brother was the referee of the house. We also played a lot of sports. A lot of not going to school because we loved playing baseball, so me and my younger brother, every time we had the chance to skip class and go play a pickup game at the ballpark, we did. It was our thing. My oldest brother practised Monday and Wednesday, I practised Tuesday and Thursday and my other brother practised Wednesday and Friday, so we were in the ballpark every day, and we played Saturday and Sunday. Everybody knew who we were because we were spending every day in the field. It was really nice. I’m here because of that, I’m here because of the sacrifice of my family. My mom quit working just to be able to take me and my brothers to baseball practice.
At what age did you know you were headed to the big leagues?
Really early. Five, six years old. Actually the guy from the concession stand at the ballpark we played, I was about six, seven years old, he was 90, he’d been working there forever. He told my mom I was going to be the first one to make the big leagues from that area.
That’s incredible. How often are you back home?
My family—my mom, my dad and my younger brother all still live there. My older brother lives in Spain. I get to see my family every year for like a month. And I bring them over for a few weeks in the off-season and in the season.
Where are you living now?
Right now I’m staying here [in the Rogers Centre] in the hotel. My wife, she’s in Florida still with the kids. After this season we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do.
You have three kids, right? Including Dioner Jr.
Yes, he’s 11. I got a 17-year-old, 11 [year-old] and 19 months. Three boys.
Do any of them play baseball?
My older one loves baseball. He plays first base. My middle one is playing a little bit of hockey. And hopefully my baby, he plays soccer.
For Barcelona, right?
Oh, that’d be huge.
I hear you also have a lot of pets at home.
My wife grew up on a farm back in Puerto Rico, so she loves animals. I grew up in the city and I never had animals. It’s really hectic in the off-season at my house. I got Snoopy, a French bulldog. Tyke, a Nigerian Uromastyx, he’s a lizard. We got a miniature pig called Sassy, which was actually my wife’s valentine’s gift for this year.
There’s a pig in your house?
Oh, she’s got her place outside. But we bring her inside, we play with her, we pet her. We also have a Chinchilla. It’s sort of a marmot from South America, they only live on the mountains because if the weather goes higher than 70 they die.
Oh my gosh. How’s he surviving in Florida?
He’s got a fan in the cage and it’s blowing air. My AC in my house is always 69. He’s amazing, yeah.
It’s basically a zoo at your house.
Oh yeah, and it’s just crazy because we normally go out to the pet store to buy dog food and we come out with a Chinchilla or with a bearded dragon. From that day on me and my wife go by ourselves to the pet store. We don’t take the kids anymore.
No kidding. Let’s shift gears and talk baseball now. Have you noticed any changes from pitching staff compared to the last time you were here?
Number one thing that comes to my mind right now is their mentality. They’ve obviously been in the league a year longer so they’re getting wiser, they’re getting smarter, they’re getting more experience. The way they attack, the way they prepare, everything. I’m not saying that it wasn’t like that last year, just saying those guys tried to take it to the next level.
Do you see more confidence from guys like Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ?
I believe so, yeah. Their preparation, their mentality, the way they go at it. It just feels different this year. We made it last year pretty far. Everybody knows, we got a taste of how it feels so I don’t think there’s nothing else but World Series this year. That’s our mentality, that’s how we feel and that’s how we’re gonna approach it for the rest of the year. We were playing extremely well and then we hit a bump and now we’re starting to pick it up again.
Will you be bringing back Officer Navarro?
[Laughs.] We’ll see how that goes. It wasn’t planned. It’s something that just happened.
If you’re given a cigar and a police hat…
Yeah, I just wear it. I have [the picture] at my house. I don’t have [much] memorabilia at my house, but that picture I got it in my house as soon as you walk in, I put it right there. Everybody that goes to my house, the first thing they see is that picture, so it’s really good.
You’ve played for seven different MLB teams. Is there anything different about playing for Toronto?
Yes, it kinda reminds me a little bit of the Venezuelan winter league—the fans, the atmosphere, the culture, the food. It’s like back home. And I feel welcome, I feel wanted in this city, and as a player that’s the only thing you can ask.
You’re quite popular here.
Yeah, I like it. I must be doing something right, they brought me back, right? [Laughs].