Marco Estrada’s father fled the family when he discovered Estrada’s mother, Marissa, was pregnant, leaving her to raise Marco on her own.
When Marco was five, their hometown of Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico, was flipped upside down. The narcotics trade had hit. Violence and death stalked streets where peace and happiness once flourished. When Marco’s mom was forced to watch as the kids in their neighborhood turned to drug use, she knew it was time to pack up their life and get out. On Marco’s sixth birthday, they hit the road. Marissa’s sister and her husband, who were living in Los Angeles, came to pick them up and take them to their new life over the border.
At first, Marco was gutted. He didn’t want to leave his home, his friends, his culture, but his mother promised them a better life in California. He refused to speak English, at first, promising his mom he wouldn’t like anything in the USA and nothing would make him happy. Just after they crossed the border, Marco spotted a McDonald’s and his mood flipped right around.
After they settled in, Marissa urged Marco to start playing baseball right away. Coming from a baseball-loving family and a grandmother who was obsessed with the game, it wasn’t hard to get Marco going.
The world of gangs and drugs still wouldn’t leave the Estrada family behind as Marco entered high school. Now old enough to comprehend what was going on around him, Marco knew he wasn’t going to follow in the footsteps of his classmates as they got swept up in the crime. His focus was on baseball, his lifeline.
Marco’s coaches, however, couldn’t see his playing potential. An infielder in high school, he didn’t have the natural power and speed they were looking for. But when a pitcher on the varsity team suffered a season-ending injury, their coach urged Marco to switch to the mound and fill the open role. He knew this was the chance he’d been hoping for to keep the baseball dream going.
It wasn’t long before Marco went from emergency fill-in to one of the premier arms in the city, then star pitcher at Long Beach State to, finally, a 2005 sixth-round draft pick by the Washington Nationals.
Try as he might, Estrada couldn’t find his stuff and failed to impress in the Nationals organization. Milwaukee claimed him off of waivers in 2010. Marco continued to struggle and his escalating home run rate was starting to catch up to him, so in 2014 Milwaukee swapped Estrada with Toronto.
On June 19th, 2015, Estrada took a no-hitter into the 8th inning. The very next start, he took a perfect game into the 8th inning. While he didn’t quite finish either, Estrada came away with the strongest season of his career, ending it with a 13-8 record and 131 strikeouts. He then made the All-Star Game in 2016, and in the ALDS that fall he made it to within two outs of a complete-game-shutout. He ended up winning that game, allowing only one earned run in the 10-1 Jays victory.
When the Blue Jays signed Estrada to a 2yr/$26m deal in 2017, he bought his mom a place in Arizona, allowing her to be done with working so she could finally focus on taking care of herself after sacrificing everything for everybody else for so long.
Since Estrada isn’t a naturally hard-throwing pitcher, he has to rely on his location. When he holds his glove up, obscuring his face, Estrada isn’t psyching out the hitters or giving himself a pep talk, he’s creating a minuscule window between hat brim and glove where all he can see is his catcher — even the batter his hidden! That way all he sees and thinks about is pure location, no distractions.
His cousin is Alex Mejia, who held a brief stint in the majors as the Cardinals’ second baseman — a baseball-loving family, after all.
Estrada has come a long way and endured more than his fair share of hardship, but here he is, still in the league as he looks toward his 36th birthday in July. It’s taken a lot of hard work, from both him and his family, but he’s carved out a pretty good career that includes an All-Star appearance, some playoff success, and the better part of a decade of full-time play as an MLB starter. Let’s see what he can add to that legacy in green and gold!