In starting role, a new chapter for Maldonado

Angels catcher thankful for opportunities leading up to breakout season

In starting role, a new chapter for Maldonado

Life hasn't been all roses for Martin Maldonado, but the starting catcher for the Angels is grateful for every step he took on the way to the Majors.

"I remember when we didn't have a car to go to practice, and my mom had to borrow one so she could take me," said the Puerto Rican backstop, known for his strong and accurate arm.

Maldonado was born and raised by a humble family in Naguabo, a small town in eastern Puerto Rico. His mother was the head of the family and Maldonaldo's greatest source of inspiration.

"My mom was a fighter. She led me down a good path and always supported me," said Maldonado, 30. "She was a pioneer and showed me what it means to be a hard worker in life."

Baseball has always been in Maldonado's blood. His mom played softball, his brother played college ball and his father played in an amateur league in Rio Grande. He started his own career playing with family and friends until he signed with the Angels in 2004.

After two seasons in the Angels' farm system, Maldonado was released. That setback didn't dampen his competitive spirit, however, and he found a new opportunity with the Milwaukee Brewers. After standing out for his defense in the Minors with the Brewers, he was overjoyed to finally be called up to the big leagues in 2011.

Maldonado went on to serve as a reserve catcher with Milwaukee for six years. His career took a drastic turn when he was sent to the Angels last offseason to serve as the starting backstop for the very team that had given him his first professional contract.  

"It never crossed my mind. I thought that chapter in my life was over, but I'm grateful that they gave me the chance to play professional baseball and now to play every day," said Maldonado of the Angels. "I'm really happy for the opportunity I was given in Milwaukee. I felt I could be a starter on any other team, but I was a reserve behind one of the best catchers in the big leagues [Jonathan Lucroy], which helped me improve."

To date, Maldonado's first season as a Major League starting catcher has been a success. In his first 76 games this year, he's tallied 10 doubles, nine home runs and 26 RBIs to go along with a .251 batting average. He's done all of that as part of a lineup that includes the big bats of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

"I've always aspired to keep working and get better," said Maldonado. "I worked hard during the offseason to be successful in 2017."

Those offensive numbers represent a major improvement in his hitting, something Maldonado had yet to experience.

"I learned to separate the game, and I have teammates like Trout and Pujols who have pushed me to keep working hard on my hitting," he said.

Maldonado's defense has also been strong; he's committed only one error this season and has caught 41 percent of would-be basestealers with his powerful "Machete."

How did Maldonado get that nickname back in Puerto Rico?

"My agent, Francis Marquez, started calling me that during a game in Fajardo," said Maldonado.

Maldonado is not the only Naguabo native in the big leagues. Also hailing from that town is Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Diaz, for whom Maldonado has much respect.

"Whenever you see someone from your town having success, it's a success for the town. It makes me really proud. We comes from similar backgrounds. We're both from families that had very few resources," said Maldonado.

Despite his accomplishments in the Majors, "Machete" has never stopped playing winter ball in Puerto Rico with the Indios de Mayaguez, for who he has played a key role in playoff games.

"It's helped me a lot," said Maldonado of playing in Puerto Rico in the offseason. "[It's given me] many experiences and a style of play that's different. We play to win and we play with a lot of passion.

"When you get to the big leagues, you already have that desire to win, thanks to winter ball. Many players there contributed to helping me become who I am today."

Winters aren't easy. Maldonado has to travel to western Puerto Rico most of the time to play with Mayaguez, something he does gladly.

"I love playing for Mayaguez; it's my second home and playing for the team with the most titles in Puerto Rico gives me a lot of pride," said Maldonado.

Now, Maldonado and his wife are expecting their first daughter, a new blessing in the midst of his breakout season.

"God's timing is perfect," said Maldonado. "I'm really happy and full of joy. It's the biggest blessing I could receive during my career."

Joshua Vazquez is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.