It came to Elliot Soto on a flight to Mexico in February 2018.
Baseball had been his life. More specifically, the previous eight years had been consumed by his working his way, albeit slowly, through the minor leagues.
After eight seasons – and 81 games in 2017 with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs – of proving his worth as a defensive gem, but one who hadn’t hit better than .271 in a season, it appeared Soto’s dream of making the major leagues was over.
“Two years ago, I didn’t have a job. Free agency was tough,” said Soto, now an infielder with the Albuquerque Isotopes, who beat the visiting Las Vegas Aviators on Tuesday, 10-6.
“So I signed to go to Mexico. I remember sitting on the plane thinking, ‘This is it. I’m done. I’m going to Mexico. If this is my last year, then it was my last year. So let’s have fun.'”
But something funny happened on the way to Soto’s last hurrah in Monclava, Mexico.
Two weeks after starting spring training with the Acereros de Monclova, he got an unexpected call from the Colorado Rockies.
“They called, and, of course you take the chance to go back to (the United States) for spring training,” said Soto. “But even though it was just two weeks in Mexico (and I never played a game), everything took off from that point.
“It sounds weird to say, but I just didn’t care if I played good or bad. I just wanted to have fun again. I was going out there and enjoy it like I did when I was a kid.”
Fast forward to Tuesday night in Albuquerque. The 30-year-old Soto – one of the oldest players in the Isotopes clubhouse in his 10th season of professional baseball, and second with the Isotopes – went 3-for-4 with a triple and a walk and scored three runs.
Soto is hitting .308 this season for Albuquerque, including 10 triples and career highs in home runs (nine) and RBIs (48). For 21 of the past 24 Isotopes games, Soto has been doing that from the leadoff spot, which was held much of the season this season by Yonathan Daza.
And while Soto’s career offensive season continues, he also continues to flash a golden glove in the middle infield.
“I’m excited to finish strong this season, but I would have liked to have been a little more consistent,” said Soto. “I would have liked to see my strikeouts go down. Maybe a little higher on-base percentage. I mean, I can’t complain. The power numbers are up. I really want to finish at .300, though. I’m teetering right there.”
But has it been enough to get what thus far been an elusive call up to the big leagues?
“I don’t think about that stuff,” said Soto. “I’d rather have it be a pleasant surprise. I think it’s a distraction to think about something I can’t control.”
That is a message that he not only has adopted himself, it’s something he tries to share with his younger teammates.
“I try to talk to the guys all the time,” Soto said. “… I think it’s my responsibility as an older guy who has been around 10 years – I’ve seen a lot of things and a lot of good players not reach their potential because of the mental side of the game.”
As for his future and how much longer Soto will keep his pursuit of a big-league call-up going, he knows it can’t last forever.
“I think about it all the time now because I have a 1-year-old daughter,” said Soto, referring to his daughter, Quinn. “It’s super hard being away from her. That being said, it’s going to take a lot before I take that jersey off. I’m just having so much fun right now.”