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Joe Espada

Astros Bench Coach Joe Espada Buoyed by Mom

Joe Espada follows standard set in Carolina, Puerto Rico

Astros bench coach Joe Espada’s mother Miriam had no idea how smart she was. She struggled to acclimate to the United States after moving from Puerto Rico at a very young age. Then after finally adjusting to the English language, she moved back to the island as a young bride.

By then, the doubts crept back in as she struggled with the Spanish skills she had lost while living in New York’s Washington Heights. She never doubted her work ethic, though. That was her calling card, her way of keeping her family just above the poverty line.

To best understand how Astros bench coach Joe Espada developed into one of Major League Baseball’s top managerial prospects, it’s important to learn about his upbringing in Carolina, Puerto Rico. 

That’s where he developed his empathy and work ethic, devotion and sacrifice, love and understanding. Charity and drive too.

There were days with no food on the table, nor enough money to pay for her children’s tuition. Yet, Miriam refused to deny her three children a private education. 

Joe and his siblings were bright and respectful, so the school often ignored late tuition payments. As a policy, the private school they attended usually didn’t let students take their exams if their tuition hadn’t been paid. 

“My kids took the test as if nothing happened,” Miriam Espada recalls. “The school helped me out a lot. That’s how we managed.”

Joe Espada’s father, Loly as he is known, was 42 years old when a hip replacement surgery left him unable to return to his job as a manager in a  clothing store. From that point on, Miriam was the sole financial support for the family of five. 

Joe Espada knows people are watching

Almost 30 years after he first left home, Joe Espada can still hear two of his parents’ favorite sayings. He lives by those so-called “dichos” or sayings in English.  

His parents often reminded him to respect everybody around him. They also constantly reminded him that somebody is always watching. A generation later, Josue Espada often shares that advice with his two daughters.

Joe Espada
Joe Espada helps his daughter with her hair during Astros family day at Minute Maid Park.

“Always remember that there’s people watching you and always remember that you want to treat people with respect,” Espada says. “Just don’t wait until people are watching to act the right way. Just do it at all times. That’s something that my parents remind me of until today.

“They watch me on TV. They watch how I carry myself. ‘Joe, remember that people are always watching.’ There’s a lot of people that are proud of you. You’re representing the organization. You’re representing Puerto Rico. Just always remember there’s more in life than the things you perceive and the things in front of you.”

Miriam admittedly wasn’t a fan of baseball at first. She wanted her boy to study accounting or pursue a career that would keep him in Puerto Rico. Loly, however, took Joe to the park to play often. He was devoted to the sport he also loved.  

Joe wanted to be a ballplayer at a very young age. Nobody could take that goal out of his head even though he also excelled in several other sports, including basketball and volleyball.

Baseball has been Joe Espada’s passion since he was 2 years old. At that time he could be found swinging a broomstick in front of the tree in front of his house. 

‘Always a champion’

“He was always a champion,” Miriam said. “He was always very important in his game. The first championship they won was with the Oakland A’s Little League team. They won the championship with his hit. Coincidentally, in June 1996 the A’s that drafted him.”

Espada was 17 years old when he left Puerto Rico. As his mother fretted about his college, he would tell her not to worry. He confidently assured her that a scholarship would appear for him in the contiguous United States. 

It definitely did. Espada headed to the University of Mobile, where he starred before the A’s drafted him in the second round in 1996.

By then, his mother had already taught him the value of a college education. She was 42 years old and working for Baxter Healthcare when she enrolled in college. She had gotten married after graduating high school in New York. 

Miriam grew up in a broken home and in an abusive atmosphere. She finished high school at night and worked during the day. Then she moved to Puerto Rico with Loly. They’ve been together for 57 years and married for 55.

She realized quickly in Puerto Rico that she was competing with college educated women. Miriam considered herself a very good secretary, but she knew she was limited by a lack of a college degree.

The church helped Miriam see her potential. She regained and refined her Spanish skills at church and then decided for a college career. 

Finally confidence with the Bible

Joe Espada
Joe Espada, center in white, poses with his parents Miriam and Loly and his siblings. Photo courtesy of Miriam Espada.

“I started to go to church and I got my degree in Theology,” she said. “I realized then I was smart. If I could study the bible in Spanish, I became confident that I could then go to college for a degree.

“I used to travel on business trips to Chicago. I used to do extra work, and I managed to graduate. It took me eight years by limiting my classes; I couldn’t study in the summer because I needed to be at home to care for my family.”

Loly kept everything going at home as Miriam worked and studied. For eight years, she often wouldn’t return home from school at 10 p.m. during the week. 

Miriam, who retired as a Human Resources supervisor in 2009, missed Joe’s baseball games and school activities while she worked to support the family. She never missed a meeting with her children’s teachers, though. 

Now all three of her children are professionals. She’s proud to say, they’re all hard working too. That’s part of the legacy she instilled in them.

Joe Espada proud of mom’s work ethic

When you ask Joe Espada if there’s something people should know about him, he doesn’t talk about himself. He doesn’t mention his time on the coaching staffs with managers such as Ozzie Guillen with the Marlins, Joe Girardi with the Yankees, and AJ Hinch and Dusty Baker with the Astros. 

By the way, Guillen, the first Latino manager to win a World Series, loves Espada.

“Joe’s a very smart young man,” Guillen texted me recently. 

Espada is also a devoted and proud son. When asked what people should know about him, he would rather you know about his mom’s work ethic and commitment to education. 

He wants you to know the story of how she went back to school at 42 years old. 

“She wanted to do that just because she wanted to show us how valuable (education) was,” he said. “She wanted us to know that ‘Joe, it’s something I wanted to do when I was a little girl. I’m not going to let these extra hours that I’m working, the late shift, stop me from getting that done.’

“I was like, ‘Mom, that’s just really special.’ Stuff like that impacts our lives.”

It wasn’t easy. The entire family sacrificed. Loly made sure Joe Espada had a parent in the stands watching, encouraging, supporting. Miriam supported the family economically. 

“Not every day we had food on the table,” Joe Espada remembers. “Some days we had leftovers. That’s just how we grew up. I just saw how strong she is and her perseverance and my dad taking me to the ballgames and the long travel hours in the car, back and forth. The appreciation I have for what they did is something that I’ll never take for granted.”

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