Cuban baseball and the Miami Marlins are intrinsically linked. Both broadly in a geo-political sense—nearby Island, political turmoil, civil unrest, it’s a lot to paint but you get it. People have fled the country for overwhelming motivations, and in a specifically MLB baseball sense, Miami has been home to numerous Cuban-born players including current minor leaguers Víctor Mesa Jr., Víctor Víctor Mesa and Yiddi Cappe, and of course the late José Fernández as well whose name can elicit a well spring of emotion to those familiar.
As a fan of the team since 2003 when it felt relevant to my parents to turn on a game, and as a publicly educated Floridian, it was easy to find inspiration in Fernández. The 2011 1st round draft pick out of a Tampa area high school attempted numerous defections from Cuba before succeeding. Nobody should experience such trauma as a child, but it certainly prepared him for any challenge he might face on the diamond. He was a transcendent athlete and my personal starting point with Cuban baseball.
I’ve seen Cuba play in the World Baseball Classic and I’ve read articles about Cuban ballplayers. But this was my first really dedicated venture into the subject of Cuban baseball and I found it well worth the journey.
While reading the first volume of Cuban Baseball and My Love of the Game by BBWAA member and Pelota Cubana co-owner Yusseff Díaz the relationship between the island and the sport became a lot more clear.
Yusseff Díaz has a passion for baseball. In his book, he offers some insight into his own fandom and conducted interviews and compiled research that help elucidate Cuban Baseball. In this first volume, his main focus is on the Major Leagues as it relates to the great players of Cuba both of the present and the past.
Particularly of interest were interviews Díaz had with Randy Arozarena, Marlins signee Yiddi Cappe and pitcher Luis Tiant who is credited with 229 wins and 66.1 bWAR in his 19-year MLB career. Call me ignorant, but I had no idea who Luis Tiant was before reading this book. A black & white photo of him throwing for the Red Sox has stuck with me for a week now.
It’s rare to have such a collection of interviews with Cuban players in English. As a resource it really is fascinating to hear from these players firsthand and I look forward to future volumes of this work especially his planned volume on baseball played in Cuba itself.