Erick Aybar was far from home, in the Far East, when he learned that he was a Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner for the first time.
The Angels' shortstop was overwhelmed when the news arrived, as he was in Taiwan playing for a touring Major League team against Chinese Taipei in a series of exhibition games.
"It's everything to me, winning Gold Gloves," Aybar said, offering thanks "to my family, my coaches, my manager and everybody with the Angels who has helped me catch the ball.
"When you're a little boy, you always dream that you can win a Gold Glove one day."
Aybar was born and raised in Bani, Dominican Republic. His homeland has been called the cradle of shortstops, and the little guy with the blazing speed and determined attitude followed right in line.
"Growing up, I loved to watch Miguel Tejada, Rafael Furcal, Jose Reyes and Cristian Guzman -- guys who played in the big leagues," Aybar said. "And I said [that] one day I want to be like those guys."
AL GOLD GLOVE WINNERS
|C||Matt Wieters, Orioles||1|
|1B||Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox||3|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox||2|
|3B||Adrian Beltre, Rangers||3|
|SS||Erick Aybar, Angels||1|
|LF||Alex Gordon, Royals||1|
|CF||Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox||1|
|RF||Nick Markakis, Orioles||1|
|P||Mark Buehrle, White Sox||3|
"He's one of the best shortstops in the world, and he's always smiling and enjoying the game," Aybar said. "I said, 'I want to be like that.'"
Now a six-year veteran who turns 28 on Jan. 14, Aybar has grown increasingly comfortable and assertive with the Angels.
"It definitely doesn't surprise me," said Angels reliever Rich Thompson, who is accompanying Aybar with the touring team. "It's a long time coming, really.
"He's just bar none at shortstop. I got to play with him in [Class] A ball, and he's always been a spectacular defender."
Aybar, who committed only 13 errors for a .980 fielding percentage, handled more double plays than any shortstop in the American League in 2011 with his acrobatic movements and powerful, accurate arm.
Trevor Bell, another Angels pitcher on the team in Taiwan managed by the Giants' Bruce Bochy, has seen Aybar's growth the past few seasons -- and marveled at his skills.
"If you just look at his hands and the way he approaches the baseball and takes feeds at second base, double plays," Bell said, "and he has such good range ... he's one of the best in the game."
Aybar became the Angels' full-time shortstop in 2008 after they traded Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for Jon Garland in the afterglow of Cabrera's Gold Glove season.
The organization was showing a lot of faith in Aybar in making that decision, and he paid them off by joining Cabrera and Jim Fregosi as the only shortstops in franchise history to claim Gold Gloves.
Aybar, who prevailed over fellow finalists J.J. Hardy of Baltimore and Asdrubal Cabrera of Cleveland, got on the phone with his family after hearing the good news.
"I called at night, because the hours are different," Aybar said, "and my mom cried. My father and brother and everybody, they were all excited. It's a great thing. It's a dream come true."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.