When he was 12 years old, Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna decided to quit school. He began working 70-hour weeks as a farm labourer, picking vegetables.
"I had to help my father," Osuna says, speaking through a translator. "When I was growing up, everyone was against me. Everybody … People think you're crazy, that you're lazy."
He played baseball at night and on his day off – Sunday. His father, also Roberto, had played professionally in Mexico. With Roberto, Sr.'s instruction, Osuna made an elite youth team. He went to Japan at 12. Aged 14, he spent three months in Italy, chipping away at his craft.
His family was still poor, but he was learning. About a great deal more than baseball.
"I had to go through a lot of things: hunger, humiliation," Osuna says. "Those are the things that make you strong."
In 2011, he was signed by the Blue Jays. How much was the bonus?
"Un millon quinientos" – One million five-hundred thousand.
How did that change your life?
"Completely," Osuna says, and smiles archly. "New life. New friends. A lot of people show up to praise the work you've done."
He freed his father from the fields. He bought his mother a house. He put his younger brothers and sister into "the best school" in his hometown of Los Mochis, Mexico. He bought rental properties. He was 16 years old.
So, you're the father?
"Yes. All the responsibility is on me."
Osuna is 20 now, though were you to close your eyes and listen to him talk, you'd guess that he's 40. He has that gift of wearing a deep experience very lightly.
This is a young man who has no trouble figuring out who his real friends are. Wherever Osuna is seen in the Jays camp, Miguel Castro is somewhere close, pulled along by an invisible tether. They sit together. They toss together. Osuna – whose English is more advanced – acts as Castro's ad hoc translator. They are an unmatched pair.
Early in spring, Castro was scheduled for a light day in Dunedin after a multiple-inning outing. The main squad was making the four-hour round-trip to Port Charlotte for a game. Osuna was on the bus. So Castro insisted on being on the bus as well. Since then, the pair goes on every road trip.
They're the same age, Latinos, and relievers advancing at remarkable speed through the Jays system. That's the end of the list.
Unlike Osuna, Castro was not an obvious find. When Jays scout Ismael Cruz discovered him in the Dominican Republic, Castro was had for only $43,000 (U.S.).
What was the first thing you bought?
"I didn't buy anything."
That's sort of true. His parents needed operations they couldn't afford – his mother for a fibrous tumour, his father on his prostate. Castro paid for the surgeries. Then he got braces – "It was just a luxury."
Last week, having had his fill of orthodontia, Castro pulled the braces off his own teeth in his hotel room. He says one of them fell off first.
Listening over to the side, Osuna shakes his head and laughs. No. Castro just decided to pry them off.
Where Osuna is confident and garrulous, Castro is confident and mute. He has the tall, angular look of an obelisk, and is equally as expressive.
Can you tell us the story of how Cruz came to sign you?
"No," Castro says.
Did anyone help you develop your pitching talent?
"Yes," Castro says.
They've sent veteran reliever Steve Delabar down, which means you've made the team.
"I'm not sure about that," Castro says.
Well, we're pretty sure.
"Let's leave everything in God's hands. He's the one who knows."
By Castro standards, this is a six-hour filibuster.
At this point, the excitement around Castro's ability is beginning to tick ahead of Osuna's. They will both head north, but Castro is the Jays' closer of the future.
He doesn't need any advertising help on the field. But Osuna is anxious to act as Castro's inter-personal hype man.
"Quite a lot of people don't know that he's a great person. They miss that. Everybody just focuses on what's there, the baseball. But he's a very happy person," Osuna says. "I try to help him as much as I can, because he is very shy. He always comes to me so that I can resolve [problems]."
The Jays will go into the season with a roster of halves – untested kids and veterans at or near the crest of the hill.
When the 31-year-old Delabar was cut on Thursday, he was angry. He'd done what was expected in baseball terms. In baseball terms, the predictability of experience always trumps hopefulness. No game is more conservative in that way.
But everything about this season has aligned in favour of players like Osuna and Castro. If they take the obvious guys, Jays management knows what they have – a serviceable major-league squad that will not embarrass itself, nor will it make the playoffs.
If that happens, everyone gets fired.
Since they have nothing to lose, why not take a chance with youth? It might work out. It probably won't, but it might.
Even if it doesn't, how can fans not fall in love with origin stories like Osuna's and Castro's?
Think back on the last decade of Toronto baseball. Which of these cookie-cutter millionaires were you really pulling for? Who was someone you felt something in common with?
Blue Jays with uplifting back stories and quirks – the imaginative foundation of epic clubs – have been thin on the ground. The organization is suddenly shot through with them.
Winning matters, but there's no drama without sympathetic characters.
"If you want to be somebody in life, you have to learn the small things, the common things, and always try to set a good example," Osuna says. "In the future, everybody wants to be remembered as a good person."
Where did you learn more – in the fields, or on the diamond?
"Everywhere," says Osuna, smiling like he already knows.