Family and baseball: Jose Puentes’ journey to coaching professionally

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

For many lovers of baseball, there is a time where we are all told that we can’t play the child’s game anymore. We may never know when this time is, but when it does come, it’s apparent. Many coaches from developmental baseball all the way to the major leagues have been told they can’t play anymore, but that doesn’t stop someone from staying involved in the game.

The Houston Astros, an organization that has opened new doors across different countries and impacted lives in and out of the organization, has an impactful coach with a long journey within their Florida Coast League. Jose Puentes, who is among the minor league staff, is indulging in his first season as a Florida Complex League (FCL) Astros’ hitting coach, but his journey to professional baseball is not what you expect.

Baseball finds those who will impact it the most, and for Jose Puentes, it came at a perfect time.

Early Life

While born in Brownsville, Texas, Puentes moved to Mexico at a young age, where he lived and grew up until he was 15-years-old as his family returned to the southern Texas valley of Brownsville.  He returned to where his life began, entering high school with little-to-no English and a baseball dream.

This isn’t where Puentes’ journey began though. Like many of the youth, he dove into the sports world at a young age, and for Puentes, his mom was a huge reason why. At 4-years-old, Puentes’ life changed forever, as he was exposed to one of the most romantic sports ever created; once you involve yourself in baseball, it is hard to leave.

“My mom threw me into baseball because I wasn’t the most quiet little kid at home,” Puentes said. “So she just said, ‘you got to go do something out there.’”

In the household, Puentes’ older brother, Francisco, was the tenured baseball player, while his playing career started at a young age. His younger brother never fell for baseball, but their father was their coach growing up, while his middle son was on the verge of a poignant career in his youth.

“I played with the Mexican National Team all the way from seven to 17,” Puentes said. “So, I had a chance to play in some big tournaments in Mexico & Latin America as a young guy and a high schooler. My parents and I were able to see the world thanks to baseball”.

Fernando Valenzuela
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Every fan and player has at least one major-leaguer that made them fall in love for the sport, and while it depends on geographic area and background, Puentes idolized the great Fernando Valenzuela. You might be wondering how a professional hitting coach grew up admiring one of the best pitchers of the ‘80s. Well, Puentes was a hurler in his day.

“He’s still a legend in Mexico. Heck, my son’s name is Fernando. The best will tell you how much we admire what he did,” Puentes said. “Especially being the first Mexican to have success as a rookie in the 80s. The impact he had in the Latino community there in LA and what he did for Mexico as a country brought the eyes of MLB to Mexico.”

While Valenzuela was eyed as a god among men, Puentes found a love for Vinny Castilla, a former third baseman for the Colorado Rockies and Astros, among other teams. He loved Castilla’s power swing and ability to launch home runs.

Although moving to the middle infield at an older age, Puentes loved pitching off the rubber, as he made a few more appearances in high school. Size can always be a factor when growing up in the game of baseball, and as Puentes was deemed too small, he adapted to the game to stick around.

Puentes played his college career at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and while he stopped playing for the younger Mexican National Team, he took his talents back to Mexico for a short time after college.

“I played a little bit in Mexico, nothing serious,” Puentes said. “I realized I gotta go get a real job. So that’s what I did. I played all the way through college, that’s it. Nothing really happened after that. I got a couple looks; nothing concrete.”

Playing the game that he fell in love with at such a young age looked to be something of the past for Puentes. His wife, Lionor, and himself knew that his time to hang up the spikes had come, while age and knee injuries held him back.

“When you want your body to do something and your body doesn’t do it, you have to go,” Puentes explained. “And the dream is there. But now, I wanted to get into coaching and pass on whatever knowledge I had to younger people.”

Houston Astros, Jose Puentes
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

To the Dugout

While working on his Masters Degree at the University of the Incarnate Word in the early 2000s, Puentes’ first baseball coaching job came at St. Anthony’s Catholic High School in San Antonio, where he was also a Spanish teacher. He entered a program that hadn’t made the playoffs in years, as there wasn’t an abundance of talent at disposal. His playoff coaching agenda was based on playing with guts; making the routine plays, not making mistakes and having a plan at the plate. While now at the minor-league level, Puentes’ still instills a plan for each hitter, when they enter the box.

Puentes jumped from high school to high school, turning programs around with his knowledge of the game. While also moving to his own select team for young players, he found himself burnt out of the coaching game and teaching, which led to a new career path: sales. By 2013, Puentes was no longer involved in baseball, as his motive of action was involved in sales.

“Growing up, you named a job I probably did it,” Puentes said. “From a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, gas station night shift cashier, to installing roofs and telemarketing, I did it all, man. All these jobs gave me experience and a perspective that has come in handy today”.

Puentes was most importantly there for his family, who supported him to the highest degree.

A Change of Scenery

While sales and coaching don’t look intertwined in words, Puentes sees how he has to sell himself as a coach and his tactics to his prospects.

“The guys that we just drafted along with the other FCL players are good. That’s why they got drafted or got signed internationally. But so is everybody else,” Puentes said. “They’ve been swinging their way for years and years and working on their craft. And yes, they’re going to come here and work. We’re not going to ask them to make changes right away, of course. But there are changes that need to be made in their swing, otherwise, they’re going to fail. Making a connection, earning their trust and selling them as to why they need to make changes is key. Some guys will do it right away, others will resist, but as a coach you have to nudge them and be there for them when they’re ready for the change.”

Puentes treats his players like family. To many of the young Astros’ minor-leaguers, he is their father figure, their mentor, as many of them are coming from troubled backgrounds or communities and countries without substantial financial situations and sometimes troublesome family situations.

“In essence, you’re selling them on what you want them to do. You can’t force them. They’ll shut down on you,” Puentes explained. “You can’t try to be their friend because they won’t respect you. They won’t do it, but you do have to give them a case for why they need to make a particular change in their swing. So, you’re selling them on the product, which is the swing. This is a kind of swing you need to have, otherwise you basically have no chance.”

While growing up in a Spanish speaking household, Puentes picked up English when he moved back to Brownsville. But with every changing turn in his life, teaching remained a constant in baseball. His parents see all the different jobs he has had as an advantage, while a bilingual individual with a long-tenured teaching background.

With his heritage rooted in Mexico, Puentes understands where many of his young players are coming from in regard to their homes in their Latin countries. He has seen what they have seen, which makes it easier to bond a trust with the young adults entering this new world.

“In elementary school, my Mom, my brothers and I walked a long way just to get there,” Puentes said. “I didn’t have it as bad as my older brothers and sisters, but it wasn’t the best. We had our family, we had a few things to play with and we had baseball. So, you learn to appreciate those things, the little things. I know these guys have gone through all that and sometimes even more; I know some of their stories, and I wish you knew some of their stories. Because it’s pretty remarkable how they will have success, even though the odds are stacked against them.”

Many Latin-born baseball players aren’t given the same opportunities of those athletes born in the United States. From trouble at home to financial issues, they can sometimes steer away from advancing to the game. This is why it is a new world, when moving to the States for baseball, and Puentes has been their guide along the way as some of them live on their own for the first time.

Although with his own family at home, Puentes has become a father figure, overlooking the lives of his young ball players. It is an overwhelming scenario to be exposed to new technologies and social media for some, and this is why Puentes treats each player with utmost respect and steps in when needed.

Houston Astros
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Here comes the Astros

While away from the game, Puentes found himself missing baseball and wanting to find a way back to the job that brought him so much. In 2017, he began teaching again and coaching baseball in San Antonio.

In his return, Puentes started to get some attention for the program he was helping turn around. Blast Motion is a rising bat sensor in the baseball world that brings an advanced look at a hitter’s swing. For Puentes, he used this technology for his high school hitters, as he also posted their progressions on his social media. This caught the eye of the company, who wanted to film a small documentary on the usage of their product to help advance high school coaching.

Jose Puentes Spotlight Video – Blast Baseball

“I was looking at pro jobs one night on my computer just for the heck of it, I remember telling my wife; what if I apply for a job with the Astros? One can only dream,” Puentes said.

Shortly after this interaction with his wife Lionor and after the Blast Motion’s videos were out, Puentes received a text in the latter months of 2019 from Jeremy Barnes, former hitting coordinator of the Astros and now Director of Player Development with the New York Mets. This was a life changing interaction that led into a phone call about a job opening with the Astros Dominican Summer League (DSL). Like all of his opportunities, Puentes turned to his family first.

“My wife said 100% go for it,” Puentes said. “‘Go for it because, I can see that light in your eyes that you want to go for it.”

With his family supporting him through it all, Puentes wanted to point out that his journey was not possible without his wife and kids. After a series of conversations, calls and interviews, he was offered the job.

Leaving the country and leaving your family behind requires sacrifice. Puentes is married and has two kids; he is a father and husband to a growing family. A contract was worked out that had Puentes headed to the Dominican Republic at the start of 2020, until the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down sports across the globe. After five weeks at the academy there, Puentes was gone and never returned.

During those five weeks, Puentes was the first hitting coach to work with top position player prospect, Pedro Leon. While away from the players, he still stayed in touch, offering tips and training virtually for those heading into 2021 spring training. Come October 2020, Puentes received a call to join the minor-league players for instructs, and of course, he jumped on the opportunity to coach and help the players in every way possible.

The Astros made some moves and offered to keep Puentes in the States in the FCL, heading into the ‘21 season. Since then, Puentes has been one of the FCL Astros’ hitting coaches this season. While there was expected to be two teams, they were joined to make one; giving Puentes more opportunities to demonstrate his abilities as a hitting coach.

Family Is Everything

In every circumstance, family drives and supports Puentes’ decisions. At home, he has a son, Fernando, and a daughter, Susana. Baseball has been an impactful aspect of Puentes’ life, so he wasn’t looking to force the game on his son.

But as he has grown up, Fernando Puentes has gotten more involved in baseball with his father being a hitting coach with the Astros. During the offseason, Jose Puentes helps develop teenage baseball players in San Antonio, including his son, Fernando. Fernando actually received a video from Alex Bregman giving him feedback about his swing.

“This is the kind of person Bregman is,” Puentes said. “He did a video for him and gave him some pointers for hitting and gave him props.”

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For a kid to receive feedback from a professional player, perhaps a future hall of famer, it means the world to him and drives the dream in every young player.

Puentes had nothing but praise for his son’s work ethic and determination in the face of physical and mental hurdles. After drastically taking a line drive off his left eye in a Little League Game in his first season, Fernando told his father unselfishly that he wanted to get better, and it was his fault he got hurt.

“He said, ‘it is my fault Dad’, while Fernando had blood all over his face, ‘we should’ve practiced more,’“ Jose Puentes said. “Most kids would’ve quit after getting hit in the eye like that, instead he took that moment to drive his desire to get better.”

This mentality is hard to teach, while it adds to the list of reasons why Jose Puentes has been a successful coach.

As Jose Puentes broke back into the game of baseball, he opened a new door with his son, Fernando. The loving father points to his children and his wife for his success and opportunities, and while they might be a three-hour flight away, his love for them grows stronger with the support they give him.

“None of this wouldn’t have happened without the support of my family,” Puentes said.

Puentes’ contract is up after the 2021 MiLB season, and while being a mentor and father figure besides being their hitting coach to the future Astros, it would behoove the franchise to bring back a hard working individual like himself.

Next. Astros to recognize J.R. Richard’s career this weekend. dark