Right off the island: Cuban ballplayers making waves
South of Florida, just 93 miles off the coast of the United States, lies Cuba. A tiny island known for its lineage of dictators, communism and poverty sits so close to the states, yet could be the furthest thing from the massive, luxurious, democratic nation we call home. The two are almost total opposites.
One thing that they have in common though? A love and talent for baseball.
Few places have produced major league talent like the country of some 11 million inhabitants. Year after year Cuban ballplayers defect from the island, leaving their loved ones behind, in order to freely showcase their talents in hopes of landing a major league contract and a life in America. In some ways, baseball is keeping an otherwise dead American Dream alive.
The latest player to achieve this dream is 24-year-old slugging outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who inked a six-year, $68.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, Nov. 26 despite never setting foot on a big league field.
Tomas is following a long line of Cuban players to cash in big in the states. Last August the Boston Red Sox signed Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million pact, breaking the previous Cuban contract record set by José Abreu when the Chicago White Sox locked him up for six years and $68 million last winter. Abreu hit .317 with 36 homers and 107 RBI on his way to a unanimous American League Rookie of the Year award win this past season.
So far he is looking like a bargain.
There are plenty of other Cuban stars scattered throughout the majors as well. Yasiel Puig, perhaps one of baseball’s most exciting and polarizing figures, has made quite the name for himself with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boston’s Yoenis Céspedes has one of the most powerful swings and arms in the league. Speaking of arms, no one throws harder than Cincinnati Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman, a.k.a. the “Cuban Missile.” He can touch 105 mph on the gun. José Fernandez defected when he was just a teenager. Now, he’s the ace of the Miami Marlins, pitching smack dab in the middle of one of America’s highest Cuban populated cities. Alexei Ramirez, also of the White Sox, has been around for a few years now while Jorge Soler of the crosstown Cubs is just getting started.
There are plenty of others and there will be plenty more.
Needless to say, Cuban baseball is on the rise. Based on the recent past, that seems like a win-win for everyone involved.
Gary Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.