Bronx, NY: Latino Sports had a chance to sit down and have a one-on-one interview with Roenis Elías. Roenis is a Cuban baseball pitcher who defected from Cuba and started playing with the Seattle Mariners since 2014 (he played two seasons 2017 & 2018 with the Red Sox).
I like interviewing Cuban players as they are the only players in MLB that have to defect their country in order to play Major League Baseball. A major problem that MLB wanted to address as the issue of human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba could create a major negative distraction for MLB. To their credit, they addressed the issue and worked out a historic agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cuban players to play in MLB without having to defect. Unfortunately, the uproarious chorus chants of Senator Rubio and Trump nixed the deal.
Thus, we like talking to Cuban players and feel them out on the real deal understanding that their ordeal is quite intriguing as they leave family and friends to come to a country that is totally foreign. While they all seem to adapt well as we can see by their performance, we don’t see what’s inside and behind the scene.
Roenis was quite open with us, he, like the majority of Cuban’s on the island love baseball. He confessed that he has been playing baseball as far as he can remember and that he was never interested in any other sport, just baseball. He described baseball in Cuba as a religion that everyone follows and is the conversation piece at every corner after games in Cuba. He admitted that he left only because he saw that there was no opportunity for a young player. The reality of a material world and lack of items is much harder to cope with when one knows that one might have the talent to make a major change in one’s economic and material life.
“The decision to leave Cuba was very difficult for me. I’m the only child and leaving my mom, dad and my grandmother that basically raised me was a very difficult decision for me,” he stated with a grim look. However, thanks to the Obama administration lifting some of the travel restrictions and the changes of the Cuban government to be less stringent on allowing the return of those that defected has allowed Roenis to visit Cuba. He has since been back several times
I asked him how was that first visit back? “That first visit was beautiful seeing my mother, father and especially my grandmother. It was a big thing for me because to be five years without seeing my family, I mean I knew about them, but only through phone calls seeing them in person was a beautiful experience.”
That lead to my next question on the agreement that MLB had with the Cuban Baseball Federation that President Trump stopped. “I can’t tell you much about the politics, but I do think that they should have left that agreement in place to allow young Cuban players to come here and play.” He continued, “there is a lot of talent in Cuba to play baseball and they should allow those youths to reach their dreams. Every player has a dream to play in the big leagues here. We all know that the best baseball in the world is played here. That’s all politics and I don’t like to get involve in that, but, let’s see and perhaps that agreement with be allowed in the near future.”
I asked him that one of the features of that agreement was that perhaps that would have allowed Cubans playing in the majors here to join Cubans players in Cuba to combine and play representing Cuba in the Baseball Classic.
“That would be great. That is one of my dreams, to be able to represent my country in the World Classic Games. That would be one of my dreams before I have to retire, to play for Cuba.” He continued, “I have never had the chance to play for my country, but I have watched the Classic Games and I see and can imagine that you play those games with more emotion that any other, perhaps even more than a World Series because your playing for your country, for your flag, for your people and I believe that motivates you to give it all on the field.”
I asked him that his comments demonstrate that though he’s outside of Cuba he seems to carry that flag inside his heart? He answered, “For sure, always, I will be representing my country. Wherever, I’m at I’m not ashamed to say, “I’m Cuban.”
The following day I left Roenis an autographed copy of my award winning book, KNOCKOUT: Fidel Castro Visits The South Bronx. Perhaps my next interview would be on his critique of my book.
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