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'He made you smile': Fayetteville remembers Garcia

Players, staffers look to carry on legacy of former Astros prospect
The uniform of Ronny Garcia, who played for Fayetteville from 2021-23, hangs above the club's dugout Tuesday as it honored his memory following his passing.
April 27, 2024

As Single-A Fayetteville assembled for its series opener with Down East on Tuesday, an additional jersey was prepared for the game. This uniform top was never meant to be worn that day, though. It didn't serve a purpose to identify any player on the field; it was an opportunity to

As Single-A Fayetteville assembled for its series opener with Down East on Tuesday, an additional jersey was prepared for the game.

This uniform top was never meant to be worn that day, though. It didn't serve a purpose to identify any player on the field; it was an opportunity to honor a former teammate, one beloved throughout the Astros' organization.

Ronny Garcia, a three-year veteran of the Woodpeckers, passed away in a traffic accident the prior Friday in Samaná, Dominican Republic. He was 24 and an offseason removed from his last season of professional baseball in Houston's system.

Yet as the staff changed and players came and went, there was still an admiration for Garcia radiating throughout each clubhouse in the organization.

On Tuesday, the Woodpeckers put together Garcia's jersey one last time. The clubhouse staff reattached his nameplate to the back of his former home jersey, a white top with the No. 2. The jersey lived above the Woodpeckers' dugout Tuesday, hanging over the players that dwelled beneath it that day.

"Obviously, he impacted a lot of players by his positive mindset, his willingness to be a good teammate and be a good dude," said Woodpeckers manager Ricky Rivera, who managed Garcia for two seasons in the Florida Complex League and a week in Fayetteville last season. "I know he's obviously going to be super missed."

The idea of displaying Garcia's jersey was brought to the team by manager of baseball operations Mike Montesino and clubhouse attendant Brian Chandler. It sparked a connection throughout the clubhouse, even to the players that didn't cross paths with Garcia.

The morning after the players and staff learned of Garcia's passing, Rivera took to the weight room with his club assembled. In the wake of the news, he wanted to be around the players who were affected, keeping the spirits high in a way Garcia would have.

"All I could say is, 'You guys need to stick together,'" Rivera said. "'Obviously, I'm here to help. I'm going through it as well. I spent a lot of time with him, but the only way that Ronny would like us to move from this -- if he was in our spot -- was to just keep smiling, be positive, have fun with this game and don't take this game for granted.'"


At the start of the season, Garcia's former uniform number had been reassigned to hitting coach Andrew Cresci, who isn't a "big jersey guy." So the top was borrowed from Cresci's locker Tuesday to honor a former teammate of not only the players but also of a tenured staffer in Fayetteville's clubhouse who adored Garcia.

"It means a lot to be able to honor him in any way," Chandler said. "Anyone in the org that knew him loved him. … One of the greatest humans to pass through here -- one of the most positive, one of the most contagious laughs."

Cresci was on staff in the Florida Complex League, where Garcia spent parts of two seasons in 2021-22. While not donning a jersey in the dugout for Woodpeckers' games, Cresci made the decision to change his number for the '24 season, so that Garcia's No. 2 wouldn't be worn by any player or staff member the remainder of the year.

Catcher Juan Santander brought the jersey to the dugout at the start of the week, before a moment of silence pregame. He, like many scattered through Florida, North Carolina and Texas, crossed paths with Garcia, someone he considered himself very close to.

In his first at-bat, Santander worked himself into a 1-2 count on the first five pitches he saw. On the sixth, he sent a high and inside breaking ball into the bullpen beyond the left-center-field wall at Segra Stadium for his second home run of the year.

"It's really cool to see, gives me the chills just thinking about it," Rivera said.

"In reality, when I hit the home run and got to home plate, I looked up to the sky and thanked God," Santander added via an interpreter. "When I got to the dugout and saw his jersey, I felt like he was there supporting us and I felt like he was congratulating me, laughing and just messing around like he always did."

Rounding third base, Santander flexed his right arm and made a gesture with his hand to Rivera, one the catcher used to do with Garcia.

"It was something like a joke I made with Ronny," Santander said. "I made that sign to him because I told him that he was 'chiquito' in front of me, but when he saw that, he told me that he would beat me in a fight. But it was something funny that I had with him, so that's why I made that gesture to remember what a good person and how happy he was and that every time you saw him, he made you smile."

In a back-and-forth contest, the Woodpeckers entered the bottom of the ninth inning knotted up at seven apiece. Two batters after Santander was intentionally walked, Yamal Encarnacion entered the box with the bases loaded and two outs, and after two quick strikes, he watched four balls cross the plate to send Fayetteville home with a 8-7 walk-off win.

Coincidentally, Encarnacion, who shared the nickname "Chiquito" with Garcia, was never supposed to play Tuesday.

"I thought it was really, really cool to see how those things play out in this life," Rivera said. "Out of all the people like Chiquito, Yamal Encarnacion, was not supposed to play. He played because [Kenni] Gomez was a little bit under the weather that day, and he ends up getting the walk-off for us to win.

"All just pretty surreal."


Garcia spent parts of three seasons in Fayetteville. He crossed paths with a large chunk of the current organization, but one of the constants was the Woodpeckers' off-the-field staff, which he grew to know in the clubhouse.

"I got to say, man, oftentimes I hear people say, 'Why does God always take the good ones early?'" Chandler said. "And it's easy to roll my eyes cause it just seems like something people say in the moment, but in this case, it's really true. He was the best."

Every player that receives a promotion from Single-A leaves a mark on Rivera's office. He's collected a player card from every Minor Leaguer that has come through his clubhouse on his office door, and with Garcia reaching High-A in 2023, Rivera already had a spot lined out for his former reliever.

"We obviously see it, acknowledge it and honor it," Rivera said. "It's an unfortunate situation, but we just got to keep smiling like he did all the time, be positive and I think it's going to hopefully impact our lives [for] the better."

Players and coaches within the organization paid homage to Garcia over the last week on social media, and to Rivera, he believes those throughout the system will continue to remember his former reliever in their own way.

"It's probably hit us a little bit harder than the guys because a lot of guys didn't know him, but the guys seeing how much it affected other players and stuff like that, I think they recognize how close this group is with the Astros from the top down and how much Ronny impacted all of us," Rivera said. "Even though he was just a short guy with a big smile and a big changeup."

"It was a special game because all of us who know him know the type of person and the teammate that he was," Santander added. "We never saw him upset and [he was] always with a good vibe, so we will remember him forever."

Kenny Van Doren is a contributor for