Giancarlo Stanton has had quite a roller coaster of a year. Just a year ago, the Miami Marlins slugger was hit in the head by an 88 mile-per-hour inside pitch thrown by the Brewers’ Mike Fiers in Milwaukee. The blow caused facial lacerations, multiple facial fractures and dental damage. “My ears were ringing,” said Stanton, who recalls hearing nothing else as he realized he had a mouth full of blood and loose teeth. The injury sidelined the player, a super-hitter who hits the league’s longest ball and was on his way to MVP status.
Just two months later, the the 25-year old player signed a record-breaking $325 million, 13-year contract with the Marlins. The size and scope of the contract—the richest in not only baseball, but in all professional sports—is drawing even more attention than his very impressive homerun and RBI stats. He’s not drowning in dough just yet though as his contract is “heavily backloaded,” offering up $30 million spread out over the next three years. The reason? To leave some money on the table to build a winning team. “It’s a big deal, I understand, but I try to downplay it as much as possible,” says Stanton. “Everyone else is blowing it up, but I just take it as another thing I need to live up to, another motivation to keep at it. I don’t want to look at the big picture too closely though; I just want to keep working the way I’ve always worked. I don’t ever want to feel like I’ve ‘made it’ and let up.”
Until June 26th, the 2015 baseball season was a good one for Stanton, who, with 27 homeruns, was set to outdo his personal record of 37 homeruns in a season. Then, he broke his hamate bone in his hand—an injury that would cause him to miss six weeks of the regular season. The incident has led the star to be called “injury-prone.” The description may be an apt one, as every year he’s had to put away his mighty bat to recover from one accident or another for weeks or months at a time. There was a knee and abdominal injury in 2012 that made him miss 39 games, and more in 2013 that had him out for 46 games. Then there was the horrible facial injury of 2014. While tough on Stanton, all these injuries make baseball seem a little more high- stakes and a little more exciting. It also makes what he gets done at the plate during the time he is well all the more amazing.
“The main thing for me is to use every last bit of my talent,” Stanton says. “I want to leave it all on the field and give 100 percent. I don’t want to have any regrets when I’m done playing thinking, ‘I could have done this, or should have done that.’” Stanton’s recovery periods have given him more time to reflect, something he doesn’t have time for during the regular season. In fact the regular 162- game season doesn’t leave much time for much of anything except games.
That’s where the Magic City makes it easy on the player. “I love Miami because, unlike a lot of other cities, there are a lot of places open late. It’s easy to find a place to go after a game when you just want to relax,” he says. Some of his favorites include Sushi Samba for people-watching, and Prime 112. “We play every single day, so I can’t ever go crazy. Big nights are for the off-season,” he says with a smile. Another thing he laments that he can’t do during season? Meet a nice woman. “The only opportunity is after our games, where I might be out at a club or a bar, which isn’t always the best place to meet someone. When the opportunity comes, [and I find] a good woman to date, I for sure will.” While Stanton is playing it close to the vest, he has been linked with a few of the world’s most beautiful women.
Much of his off-season is spent in Los Angeles, where Stanton grew up. Back then, he went by the first name Mike, simply because it was easier for teachers to pronounce than Giancarlo.
He was a three-sport athlete, excelling on the football, basketball, and baseball teams at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California. He was the basketball team’s top scorer, with 19.7 points per game and in football averaged better than 26 yards per reception with 12 touchdown catches. His coach thought that if he went pro, it would likely be in either football or basketball, not baseball, which the school’s athletic director, Kevin Rooney, called Stanton’s “third-best sport.”
Before he finished high school, Stanton had been offered a full scholarship to University of Southern California (USC) to play both baseball and football, but declined it upon being drafted by the Marlins. “I thought that my best opportunity would be to stick to one sport and give it all I had. I figured—if I wasn’t successful, I would still be young enough to go back to school, or maybe play football if professional baseball didn’t work out.” Success came quickly once he started in the minor leagues. “At 17, my first team was in upstate New York,” says the player, who was imaging the Big Apple and wound up on the Jamestown Jammers in upstate New York. “I’m thinking big buildings, big city, so it was a rude awakening.”
He went on to play for the Greensboro Grasshoppers before getting an invitation to practice with the big guys at the Marlin’s 2009 spring training. By June of 2010, he was on the roster. Although he was elated to move up to the majors, Stanton thinks playing for farm teams was an extremely valuable experience. “Players get to understand [what] failure and success [mean] at the lower levels. That’s important, because it’s only going to get harder and harder from then on,” he explains. “You need to learn from yourself and understand what kind of player and person you’re building yourself to be [in order] to make it.”
One thing he’d like to change about the system though is the pay. “Those guys should get paid more for all the hours, travel, and work they do; they get paid less than the lowest minimum wage,” says Stanton. “Still, you gotta do it in order to follow your dreams, so I guess [getting more money] is another motivation to move up.”
“When I started, I didn’t know what the minor leagues really were, how long the process was, and what it would really take to get to the top,” he admits. His first two seasons with the Miami Marlins
at SunLife Stadium weren’t easy. “We played outside those first two years and it was brutal, very tough.” Now, Stanton and his teammates can keep cool in the new Marlins Park where, after April, the retractable top is kept closed and the air conditioning cranked up. “It was a game-changer,” remarks Stanton.
When the Marlins moved into the new stadium, the team also got a new name (from Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins), new uniforms, and a new logo. So Stanton took the opportunity to get a new moniker, too. Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton went from being called “Mike,” to “Giancarlo.” Years ago, he’d chosen to go with Mike for the ease of it after his teachers and fellow students in California struggled with his first given name. “It’s always been my name,” he says of “Giancarlo.” “I just thought 2012 was a good time to break it out.” Although Stanton is not of Latin descent (his father is Caucasian and his mother is African-American), he realized nobody would have a hard time pronouncing his Latin-sounding name in Miami. The name sets him apart not only from other players with predictable, single-syllable American names, but also from the other Mike Stanton, a left-handed pitcher who played for the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves and retired in 2008 after being cut from the Cincinnati Reds.
From the way his career is going, it doesn’t look like there will be any confusion as to whom Giancarlo Stanton is, and if he gets his way, he’ll be among the greats—the kind of player fathers take their sons to see. “I want to be someone like Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, or Sammy Sosa, the guys I grew up admiring,” he says. Stanton is not only ready to be a role model; he’s an actual model now, too, having just signed on to be one of TAG Heuer’s brand ambassadors. “It’s still very recent,” he says tapping the TAG Heuer on his wrist, “But I’m excited to go forward and build a long-lasting relationship with them. I really love the watches, and doing these kinds of things is the fun part [of my job].”
Aside from loving the sporty Swiss timepieces, Stanton is also looking forward to the opportunity to pick up a few new fans across the pond. “Baseball isn’t as big in Europe as it is here, but there are a couple of countries that are trying to make it bigger. [My working with TAG] might help make baseball seem like it’s not so far away [for Europeans],” he says.