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YoYo, Open Mic Night

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The first entry in our offseason player profile series takes us to a coffeehouse filled with clove cigarette smoke, broken promises, and the anguish of dreams unfulfilled.

[This offseason, we debut a series of player profiles that speak less to player, more to man. Yoán Moncada had visions of a World Tour after the World Series, and with Chicago’s early exit in the playoffs, plans changed. But then, so did the artist within.]


Disconsolate, he plucks at a string. It sounds good, the nylon, instead of steel. Pito was right.

They don’t know me, my music. They just want ... to dance.

Yoán Moncada knows he should be training. The offseason runs short, and every day he plays music not baseball is a day he has to work harder to get his timing back in the cages, on the field.

I play baseball. I live for music.

The promoter promised not to publicize his appearance, but one peek from side-stage reveals too many Sox caps, too many Moncada No. 10s for that to hold true.

This crowd won’t let me be me.

Yoán Moncada lives for music — but music, his way. And his way is not autotune dance, next-wave mambo. It’s folk, the Cuban songs he grew up on as a young boy, when he learned to sing, and learned to love. Celia Cruz singing Guantanamera: That is his music.

This is my love, my life. Not theirs. I go crazy if I don’t have you, my music. But I am no desastre.

Yoán Moncada sang his songs on the diamond, all through spring training. Jake Burger was begging him to write something new, before the rookie was rescued from his own desastre en progreso with a mercy cut to Charlotte camp. But when pressed, Yoán is shy in front of a microphone. He knows what no one else does, yet: The dayglo jumper-wrapped pop star is not Yoán, the artist.

So, somewhere on the flight back from Oakland, he changed his plan from Latin pop package tour postseason, to coffeehouses. He ran through his songs with Pito and Yaz in the clubhouse, late in the season. They love his new direction, real music, not micro-shimmy dance moves. Loco de Amor would open. Next, a new original: Hot Corner, a plaintive cry wrapped in macho. To finish, yes, of course, Guantanamera, chords plucked on the nylon, with a short solo, his first in public.

I have waited all my life for this.

Listed on the bill, tonight, a pop-up show with the season’s end still fresh and feeding his tortured soul, Yoán was disguised as “YoYo y El Moncy.”

Maybe it was Yasmani who let word get out. He’s always giving me shit and calling me a fancy boy. Those steel eyes, I cannot ever tell if he’s joking with me.

In the crowd, there are whispers, and the singer can hear his name, the words wafting to him, as he stands alone, learning on a balcony rail, waiting to play. Those voices, they seduce him. He crumples the set list and notes he so carefully wrote, and continually edited, over and again, on planes, in clubhouses, taxis ...

I hear them say my name. I cannot disappoint. I know what I must do.

The stage lights aren’t as bright as he imagined. There are fewer fans than he anticipated, and he realizes his nerves did a number on him offstage.

I have to fight through this. Give them the me they want now, they will learn to love my art later.

Tightly gripping the neck of the acoustic guitar of his youth, the one he had played since childhood, Yoán Moncada half-smiles, as if the last place he wants to be is on stage on the outskirts of Miami, trying to learn the ropes and establish his credibility as a touring musician.

I will live my dream.

But then — a short, dazzling arpeggio on the frets steals attention. No autotune, no samples, no backup or double-tracking. YoYo, raw, will give them what they want.

The tempo is slow, the strumming firm, trills so, so delicate.

Yoán, he arrives.

What am I gonna do when you leave?
How do I hide the fact that I go crazy
if I don’t have you,
my personal disaster.