DENVER - When Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario was 6 in Bonao, Dominican Republic, his mom came up with the perfect gift -- a doll.
"We'd go into the backyard and take the head off the doll," Rosario said. "Then we cut a tree and made a bat. We took out the doll's head and used it for hitting."
Major League Baseball celebrates Mother's Day by saying thanks to Mom for love, guidance and support. Rosario, the Rockies and the sport itself can thank his mother, Crucita Paniagua, for giving her son the foundation that has made him one of the Major Leagues' top power-hitting catchers since he was promoted -- without time in Triple-A -- during the 2012 season.
Rosario, 25, said his mom hasn't stopped breaking down and rebuilding his swing, either. He smiles when he thinks of his toughest critic.
"Mom is my hitting coach," Rosario said. "She sees something that sometimes I don't see. She's like, 'I want you to use your hands.' She gets mad when I strike out on bad pitches. She tells me, 'That pitch was low. It was on the ground. You keep swinging at that? You kidding me?'
"She gives me a lot of emotion, whether it's good or bad. When you hear your mom tell you something, you pay a little attention. You're like, 'I'm really bad if my mom is telling me what to do.'"
Not many high school or college coaches, or high-pressure travel coaches or high-dollar private instructors can say they have a legitimate Major League power hitter, and possibly another Major Leaguer on the way. Rosario's younger brother, Jario Rosario, played for the Rockies' Rookie-level club in Grand Junction, Colo., last year, and he hit .242 with four home runs, six doubles, three triples and 22 RBIs in 44 games.
But give Paniagua a doll's head and a tree and she can work wonders.
She passed on to Rosario the basic athletic ability to make those lessons worthwhile. Rosario said his father, Jose Rosario, worked construction and as a painter, and was not an athlete. Neither is his stepfather, Mariano Garcia. The athletes were his mother and her brothers.
"My family told me they had a team for females in my hometown, and she played," said Rosario, currently on the 15-day disabled list with a viral infection -- a flu-like illness that is affecting several Rockies. "My mom's brothers told me my mom was good. She played third base and catcher a couple of times. She was the best hitter they had on the team.
"So she would take me to the field and we'd play on Saturdays and Sundays, then we'd play in the backyard at our house."
In order to really drive the doll's head, a hitter has to have a solid base. Power comes from the legs. Mom reminds Rosario of that, often.
"Sometimes if I'm high in my stance, she'll tell me, 'Lower, I'd like to see you lower. Bend your knees,'" Rosario said. "That's a little family thing that works. When she's at home in the Dominican, she sees the game on TV and calls me right away.
"She can still hit. She might not have a good swing like me, but she can hit. She can catch, too."
Rosario was thankful his mom visited Denver just when he needed her last year. He was hitting .243 when she showed up for a brief visit on June 15. From that date to the end of the season, Rosario hit .332, had a .349 on-base percentage and hit 11 home runs, 16 doubles and a triple.
She visited during Spring Training this year, but obtaining visas for her or other members of his family can be a frustrating process.
"I remember I had a little problem in April, because they didn't give an April visa for my mom or anybody in my family," Rosario said. "I don't know why. I keep having a hard time this year with my father. I don't understand why. But my mom had a visa from Spring Training."
During the winter, Rosario usually plays for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League. But he reserves time to be a teammate of his mother.
"On my mom's side of the family, everybody played growing up," he said. "When they were younger, they played baseball, but they play softball now. We have a family team."