Baseball’s Last Cuban Escapees


For foreign baseball players hoping to make it in America, just about every conceivable journey — the 1,300 miles from Venezuela, the 5,000 miles from Japan, the 7,000 miles from Australia — has been easier than the 90 short miles from Cuba. That trip, over the last 50 years, has involved almost mythic hardships: improvised rafts, drug lords, ransoms, death threats, forgery, machine guns on the high seas. And yet the Cuban players have come, drawn by the promise of freedom, glory and outrageous capitalist paydays.

From left to right: Onelki Garcia, defected in 2010; Alexei Ramírez, defected in 2007; José Abreu, defected in 2013; Adrián Nieto, defected in 1994; Jorge Soler, defected in 2011; Roberto Baldoquin, defected in 2014; Roenis Elías, defected in 2010.
From left to right: Onelki Garcia, defected in 2010; Alexei Ramírez, defected in 2007; José Abreu, defected in 2013; Adrián Nieto, defected in 1994; Jorge Soler, defected in 2011; Roberto Baldoquin, defected in 2014; Roenis Elías, defected in 2010.

Once upon a time, before Communism, the flow of players was reversed: American stars would migrate south to Cuba’s professional league during the winter in order to stay sharp and make a little extra money. In 1961, however, soon after Fidel Castro rose to power, he turned pro baseball into a highly regulated amateur league. Most of the money drained out; players were forced to play for the love of the game and the glory of the revolution. (As recently as 2013, a typical salary was $17 a month.) They found themselves working in an atmosphere of scarcity, propaganda and constant surveillance.

The first high-profile wave of defectors arrived in the United States in the early 1990s, and after their success — Liván Hernández became a World Series M.V.P., Rey Ordóñez won three straight Gold Gloves — more Cubans followed. Many used international tournaments as escape hatches: They would walk out of a team hotel in Miami or scale a fence in Buffalo, then take refuge with an American cousin or aunt. Just last month, two Cuban players defected after an exhibition game in North Carolina. Escape, however, was often its own form of punishment. Most defectors had to leave without even saying goodbye to their families; the few who received official permission to come to the United States had to leave everything behind. This meant that Cuban players entered the high-pressure world of Major League Baseball in terrible isolation. Great talents, after all that risk, found themselves struggling with loneliness, guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder and the dangers of sudden wealth and fame. Eventually, many of them fizzled out.

Yasiel Puig, the All-Star right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, tried and failed to leave at least four times before he finally succeeded. Puig hiked for 30 hours, slogged through a crocodile-infested swamp to avoid the police and ended up a prisoner in a Cancún hotel room while rival underworld figures tried to extract money from one another. Even then, his ordeal wasn’t over. When Puig signed a $42 million major-league contract, he had to pay out a portion of it to the smugglers who had helped to extract him. (It seems fitting that Puig’s fantastical story has been optioned for film by the director of one of the X-Men movies.) After dominating the league during his rookie year, Puig suddenly regressed, spending much of this season on the bench.

Taking the critical replies from Makko, melibeo, and RAC seriously, I’m going to do some research on the subject. I just want to acknowledge…

“…to loosen up and celebrate the thawing of a continent.” What a nice way with words. Sometimes a picture isn’t worth more than ten words.

How great would a Cuban MLB expansion team be?Unlike Canadians, Cubans {and maybe Dominicans!} would show up to ball games and could…

The United States’ recent decision to normalize relations with Cuba should, among all its other geopolitical effects, signal the end of this strange cloak-and-dagger era in baseball migration. The next generation of prospects will be greeted not as fugitives but as normal international rookies. This introduction of safety and legality — admirable, necessary, humane — will also nevertheless signal the end of a long tradition of Cuban mystery and romance: the whispered legends that would build around a prospect long before he actually appeared in the flesh, the excitement of his sudden arrival, and then — if we were lucky — the display of exorbitant talent that seemed to push the limits of the sport. Cuban stars have often been flamboyant, demonstrative and a little wild — from the acrobatics of Ordóñez to the time Orlando Hernández, known as El Duque, threw his entire glove to first base to everything having to do with Puig, including his signature celebratory bat flip. (One of Puig’s nicknames is ‘‘The Wild Horse.’’) In the newly regulated future, Cuban players may become, for better and worse, a little more ordinary. They may also become a little less wealthy: Initial salaries, instead of being driven up and up by bids in the open market, will start on Major League Baseball’s much lower rookie scale. $42 million could turn into just above $500,000.

These players belong to what is very likely the last generation of Cuban athletes who will have to endure such outrageous hardships to get here. The group contains steady veterans, rising superstars and young prospects. The portraits were taken during spring training in Arizona, where much of the league gathered to loosen up and celebrate the thawing of the continent. Cuban players had a little extra to celebrate: not only the usual optimism of a fresh season but also the dawn of a potentially radical new era, one in which the road home may not be quite so obstructed, and in which more of their countrymen will be joining them — safely, normally — soon.

Azteca America Scores with Sports


Azteca America’s broadcast of the Tijuana vs. Chivas and Monarcas vs. Cruz Azul Futbol Liga Mexicana (FLM) matches on Friday, April 17 outranked all programming on competitors UniMas, Estrella and MundoFOX among adults 18-49, with Tijuana vs. Chivas averaging 575,000 total viewers and 347,000 adults 18-49 and Monarcas vs. Cruz Azul averaging 370,000 total viewers and 205,000 adults 18-49, according to Nielsen.

Tijuana vs. Chivas delivered more than three times the adults 18-49 audience for UniMas’ MLS game (New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes), while Monarcas vs. Cruz Azul delivered almost double the adults 18-49 audience for UniMas’ MLS game.

Tijuana vs. Chivas outperformed all MLS games broadcast on UniMas this season, among adults 18-49.

Tijuana vs. Chivas was the third highest rated game on Azteca this season among adults 18-49, and the game’s average audience was 19% larger than Telemundo’s season-to-date delivery in the demo for Futbol Estelar Pachuca/Leon.

Overall, the game ranked as the fourth highest rated program for the night on Spanish-language primetime among men 18-34 and men 21-34, outperforming key primetime on Univision (“Que Te Perdone Dios” and “Sombra del Pasado”) and Telemundo (“Casa Cerrado,” “Tierra de Reyes” and “Avenida Brasil”).

Both games also performed very well on the local level. In Los Angeles, Tijuana vs. Chivas ranked #1 regardless of language among men 25-54, while Monarcas vs. Cruz Azul was #1 in the demo among Spanish-language networks. In Chicago, both games ranked #1 among Spanish-language networks among men 18-34. Additionally, Tijuana vs. Chivas ranked #1 among Spanish-language networks with adults 18-49, adults 18-34, men 18-49 and men 25-54. In Dallas, Tijuana vs. Chivas ranked #1 among Spanish-language networks with men 25-54.

Nascar Goes with Florida Firm


20150216 Pg8NASCAR has assigned its Hispanic marketing and advertising needs to Florida-based firm, Marca.

Son Jorge to Join Father Jaime Jarrin In Dodger Radio Booth In 2015


Jorge Jarrin will be switching roles with Pepe Yniguez, who has shared the radio booth with Jaime Jarrin since 1999. The Dodgers will double the number of games it will offer on SportsNet LA-Spanish this season, broadcasting 150 games on TV, with Yniguez handling the play-by-play and former Dodgers greats Fernando Valenzuela and Manny Mota sharing the job as analyst.

Valenzuela is expected to do 120 games and Mota the rest. Last year, Jorge Jarrin and Mota were the lead broadcasters on SportsNet LA-Spanish.

On Monday, both Jarrins were honored by the Southern California Sports Broadcasters, with Jaime winning for best foreign-language radio play-by-play broadcaster and his son taking home the same prize for TV play-by-play.

Jaime Jarrin, 79, was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

Jaime Jarrin is introduced on the field during a pregame ceremony honoring his broadcasting career in 2013.
(Jill Weisleder / Los Angeles Dodgers)

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