clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Right on Q: Cuban baseball, where every man is an island.

New, comments

Yasiel Puig, Alexei Ramirez, and the unique stress that comes with being a Cuban baseball player.

The weight has been removed from Alexei Ramirez's shoulders.
The weight has been removed from Alexei Ramirez's shoulders.
Jonathan Daniel

The story of Yasiel Puig's journey from Cuba to Major League stardom will be a movie. It has all of the trappings of a Hollywood blockbuster: a main character with limitless potential, a rogues' gallery of shady figures, drug dealers, fake kidnappings, arrests, and torture in a Cuban prison.

If you haven't read it yet, you should check on Los Angeles Magazine's attempt to piece together Puig's escape from Cuba. The story is so theatrical, you should read it while listening to Giorgio Moroder's soundtrack from "Scarface." After a dramatic departure from Cuba, the World finally belongs to Yasiel Puig.

It's easy for baseball talent to find a dead end. Ability can take a player so far. Baseball dreams can die in Double-A. You go back home, coach high school baseball, and tell the students about that time you were invited to Spring Training.

Even if you do make a Major League roster, the pressure to succeed is enormous. You are no longer a human being. You're a multi-million dollar investment, and you have to prove that you are worth the money.

Now imagine you are a defector from Cuba. You have to adjust to a new life in a new country where most people don't speak your language. Baseball is different. The stadia are different. The money is different. Outside of the culture shock, you have to worry about the family left behind. What is going to happen to them? Are they safe?

Puig's story is the outlier. Most Cuban defection stories are pretty simple. Cuban baseball team plays a game in some place other than Cuba, and the defector "disappears."

Jose Contreras defected in 2002, after a game in Mexico.

Alexei Ramirez married a woman from the Dominican Republic. He "defected" when he decided to declare residency in his wife's home country.

Dayan Viciedo sailed to Mexico with his family.

The details of Jose Abreu's defection are still vague. Last August, several teammates from the Cuban national team now playing in America said Abreu had defected to an undisclosed Caribbean country.

The cloak-and-dagger regarding Cuba is an offshoot of the embargo that's been in place since 1960. Without going into the politics of the situation (the embargo is going to remain in place as long as Florida's Cuban Exile community remains politically potent), the embargo is a remnant of the Cold War. Open the travel section of any Canadian newspaper. You'll see ads for all inclusive resort vacations in Cuba. Somehow, the Earth keeps on spinning.

Cuban baseball players are experiencing a unique type of stress that could get in the way of their performance. It's one thing to leave your own country to find your fortune in America. It's another thing to live with the fear that your family will be harmed as a direct result of your actions.

At SoxFest, one of the fans hounded Alexei Ramirez for his "mental lapses" on the field. All last year, we had read that Ramirez had been dealing with a family tragedy that he was not willing to discuss.

Now we know: His father-in-law was murdered just before the start of Spring Training.

The "mental lapses" are certainly forgivable.

Meanwhile....(as Hawk would say)..Adam Dunn is doing pretty well. He has 13 walks, which is the third-best in baseball (tied with Jay Bruce and Brian Dozier).

Now, let's say at the end of the season Adam Dunn hits 30-ish homers and maintains an OBP between .350 and .400. Should the White Sox find a way to keep him?

Thanks to his shaky years in Chicago, his big money days are behind him. He's now in the John Jaha/Mickey Tettleton phase of his career. Dunn isn't the player he once was, but he can contribute.

But, if he has a productive 2014, Rick Hahn should find a way to keep the big lug around.

This is my way of saying the White Sox should sign him to a cheap deal before the Oakland A's. It's a Billy Beane move.