April 22, 2018
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Choice to leave Cuba difficult

By Gary Thorne, Special to the News

It is ironically fitting that Aroldis Chapman defected to the U.S. last week. We did, after all, celebrate July 4 over the weekend.

Chapman is a 21-year-old pitcher on, until this week, the Cuban national team. While playing in a tournament in the Netherlands, he walked out of his hotel room into a waiting car, never to return.

He flew to Miami on Thursday.

Clearly, plans had been previously laid. The details will come out in good time.

Those plans involve money to be made by and off Chapman. He is a highly sought after prize by major league baseball teams. Many consider him the best lefthanded pitching prospect in the world.

That money should be a prime factor in the discussion of Chapman’s defection the very day he defects also seems appropriate as we discuss what freedom means.

To differentiate the two, Chapman might want to talk with Danys Baez.

Baez pitches for the Orioles. He defected from Cuba in 1999 during the Pam American Games, hiding for a week in Winnipeg.

“That was crazy,” Baez says. “It was 10 days in a little hotel. I shaved my hair and goatee and that kind of stuff. Not because I was doing anything bad, I mean it looks like I was hiding from something, but I haven’t done anything bad. I was fighting for freedom.”

The price was steep.

“Leaving Cuba was the most difficult decision of my life,” Baez says.

His parents and brother were math professors in Cuba. They were prevented from working as teachers after Baez left.

The Cuban government said they did not want his family to be giving ideas about defection to others.

Baez sent videos home to Cuba. He called multiple times a week. He wired money to his parents monthly.

Baez did not see his parents for five years. They were allowed to leave Cuba for Mexico in 2004. They met up with their son at the U.S. border.

Baez has yet to see his brother again.

When Baez arrived in the U.S. to live with an aunt in Miami, he came as a baseball player, but he did not come to play ball. He came to live freely.

“I’m not afraid to work,” says Baez. “I was talking with my agent in the beginning. If I can’t play baseball, I came over here to work like regular people. Not everybody is a baseball player, not everyone is a superstar, but everyone has a life. They can work. You can have a house, friends, whatever you want if you work hard enough to get that. So for me that was my goal at the time.”

He reached his goals through his career as a baseball player, but the idea of freedom never leaves his mind.

Chapman has his freedom now and says he wants to “test myself in the highest levels of baseball.”

Fine and good, but listen to Danys Baez and remember there is so much more.


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