The aroma of cigars always brings him back.
Whenever he took the field or stepped up to the plate, the unmistakable smell would emanate from the stands and overwhelm the young athlete with a sense of familiarity. Shane Victorino doesn't smoke cigars -- in fact he doesn't even like the smell -- but the scent reminds him of the days in Hawaii when he didn't have to see his grandfather to know he was there.
Family has been the backbone of Victorino's major league career. His mother and father, Joycelin and Michael, sacrificed to provide their children with better educational and athletic opportunities, a selflessness instilled by their own parents.
The Red Sox right fielder grew up near his maternal grandparents, Olive and Chester Nakahashi (his paternal grandparents lived on another Hawaiian island), and spent countless hours with them as his parents juggled multiple jobs. His father balanced more than one career at a time before settling into his role as a city council member. His mother worked at a local airline during the day and returned home at night to help her husband with jobs in the community, all while maintaining the responsibilities of raising children.
“I remember my mother would have sleepless nights,” said Victorino. “I'd get up to go to school and she's up. I'd ask her if she had gone to bed and she'd say no, and she had to go to work at seven, eight o'clock in the morning.”
Victorino’s mother, who is still employed to this day, saw a relentless work ethic during her childhood. Her mother worked in a pineapple cannery while her father drove barges. Victorino grew up hearing stories of their long hours and doesn’t forget the professions they took on as he plays professional baseball for a living.
“I watched how hard they had to work,” he said. “It makes you grateful and (I) truly understand how fortunate I am to get to do what I do. Having a loving family to support me makes it even better because not only do I enjoy it, they enjoy the fruits of hard work and all the things that came with it.”
Victorino considers his maternal grandmother to have been the backbone of their family. When it came to his grandfather, though, they shared a very special bond filled with small moments and conversations that added up to a huge impact.
He remembers his grandfather being at “every” sporting event, flying between islands to proudly watch Victorino play. Often times Victorino wouldn’t know he was going to be there; it was the scent of the cigar that gave it away.
“I'd be playing in a sporting event and I'd smell it,” he recalled. “‘Man, it smells like grandpa's cigars.' I look up and he's standing on the sideline and I didn't know he was coming. He would do things like that to come on his own.”
When Victorino had games out of state, his grandfather often joined him at the airport before the flight. They would sit and talk prior to boarding, using that down time to simply be together.
Thirteen years later, there is still one trip to the airport that still stands out to Victorino. While discussing his family, he leaned back in his chair at his locker in the Red Sox clubhouse and, unprompted, began telling the story of his grandfather’s commitment and determination to keep the routine that bonded them together.
Back in 2000 Victorino had to fly to Arizona for Instructional League. On his way to the airport he realized he had forgotten to tell his grandfather about his flight. Since the trip was only a month long, he didn’t think much of it but called regardless to let him know.
“'Hey grandpa, I'm sorry I'm in a rush, I'm heading to the airport now,' ” Victorino recalled. “He said, 'Ok I'm going to try to rush down there. I want to see you before you leave.' ”
Victorino waited at the gate with his parents, eventually having to depart once the plane began to board. It wasn’t until he was settled into his seat that he remembered his grandfather had wanted to see him at the airport. An hour into the flight, the pilot walked down the aisle and approached him.
“'Are you Shane?'” he asked.
Victorino replied yes, a bit perplexed.
“'I just saw your grandpa right before I got on the plane,’” he said. “He was standing by the gate before I got on to close it. He said to tell you he loves you and have a safe trip and he'll see you when he gets back.'”
Victorino smiled, appreciative of the efforts his grandfather always made to spend time with him.
They spoke often while Victorino was in Arizona, including one Saturday evening when his grandfather was getting ready to go to a local high school football game. It was a matchup of rival teams, a must-see for the avid sports fan. Victorino looked forward to the next call, but it never came.
Two days later his aunt stopped by his grandparent’s house to check on them. His grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s and his grandfather devoted himself to taking care of her; the rest of the family also liked to help. That Monday, Victorino’s aunt pulled up to the home and noticed something was awry. His grandfather had an unbreakable schedule of reading the newspaper each day for an hour.
Sunday’s and Monday’s papers were still outside. Victorino’s grandfather had passed away in his sleep.
“I was devastated,” Victorino said. “I was 20, 21, so I was still young. What was tough about it was that story about how he took his time and went out of his way with the pilot to make sure he comes and tells me he loves me and he'll see me when he gets back home. It's unfortunate I didn't get to see him that last time, but those are the kind of things you look back on. This is something that will always be special to me -- my grandparents, my parents, my family. I always say my family's been an integral part of who I am and where I am today.
Now 32, Victorino has a family of his own. His grandparents are no longer with him, but he carries on their memories each time he takes the field. He remembers the long work hours and trips to the airport, the sacrifices his family made and the love and support they gave him to pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player.
“[I think about] how hard my parents had to work to put me through school, to put me where I am today,” he said. “When I say I play for them, I work hard for that and understand how fortunate I am and how hard my parents and grandparents had to work, and they don't even have half the things I have. That's the kind of stuff I play for.”
The aroma of cigars always reminds him of that.