MADISON, Ala. – Almost every baseball player’s dream from a young age is to make it to the Major Leagues and be the next Babe Ruth.
For a Cuban Baseball player, like Trash Pandas Outfielder, Orlando Martinez that dream is associated with freedom. Cuba, with its deteriorating exteriors, is a daily reminder of the 1950s before the oppression of the Castro regime.
Most would say America’s heartbeat is the crack of a bat hitting a baseball and while we get excited to see that home run, it’s a constant reminder to Cuban emigrants as a sound of freedom.
The journey to the United States was not an easy one for Martinez, when he thinks back about that process, difficulties and opportunity comes to mind.
“It was very hard to leave Cuba. I left with my dad, I was 17 years old when I left,” The now 23-year-old recalled the struggle many Cubans go through when trying to flee the Communist dictatorship. “At that time only a few of us could leave legally, without visas to some countries. We took advantage of that opportunity, so me and my dad could leave,” Martinez told News 19.
Just to get here, Martinez and his father had to go through five different countries so he could achieve his dream of one day playing on the world’s biggest stage. Luckily, both Martinez and his father left shortly after his mother and were not separated for long.
“We went through many different countries before we got to the United States. Me and my dad left with a normal visa to Ecuador, from there we went to Haiti, in Haiti we crossed the border to the Dominican Republic, we couldn’t stay in the Dominican for too long because of some problems we had there, and there we decided, like many Cubans do, to get on a boat and go to la Isla De Mona,” which is Puerto Rico’s third-largest island.
At that time, that’s when they had the wet foot dry foot policy, which encouraged the Cuban refugees who emigrated from Cuba would be able to pursue residency a year later. “Since my dream was to play baseball in the United States, I waited that one year to have my residency so I could play through college,” Martinez said.
On January 12, 2017, Barak Obama announced the immediate end of the policy.
Because of the dictatorship in Cuba, no United States team is allowed to sign any Cuban player that wants to play in the United States. They have to seek residency in another country for at least one year before a U.S. team is allowed to draft or sign a Cuban player as a free agent.
“I couldn’t sign with my Cuban residency, because of political restrictions in Cuba, you can’t sign baseball players. While I was already here, I was able to go to a school in the Bahamas. With a temporary residency in the Bahamas, I was able to sign as a free agent. I was living in the Bahamas for a year and a half, while there I was able to be signed by the Angels,” Martinez said.
While there may have been obstacles to achieve his dream, like many aspiring baseball players endure in their own ways, Martinez says playing in the United States is all about the opportunity he didn’t have in Cuba.
“You don’t have the sports equipment, the means, the baseball here gives you here in the United States, that gives you everything to achieve. In Cuba it’s harder to play baseball you have to get ahead for yourself and it’s something very complicated,” Martinez said.
He didn’t do it by himself, Martinez had his parents who always gave him the best platform possible and did all they could to ensure that he was able to practice, even if it was with the least of materials.
Being in the states, Martinez never thought that while he was achieving his dream, he would see his home country of Cuba rise up. on July 11, the Cuban people took to the streets of the island, protesting for better health care, human rights and the end of a dictatorship.
Like many Cubans who had fled their homeland, Martinez said seeing that, reignited a fire inside of him.
“To see the Cuban people that was a great motivation to all Cubans, all of the Cubans were supporting, even if we weren’t on the Island,” Martinez recalled that day, “It was emotional, I mean I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but I was proud,” Martinez said.
But even as he watched history unfolding on the island, Martinez himself had his own adversities he was fighting through, “You know, it’s hard when you want to have a conversation with your team mate and there is the language barrier,” adding that even the culture shock of being in a far more developed country than Cuba was an adjustment.
Through all of that, he never forgot what his main goal was and why he was doing it, the country he loved and left behind and for all of those who sacrificed to help him achieve his dream.
Martinez may be fighting for something bigger, but it hasn’t taken his focus away from the game, which is why he dazzled on the diamond all season long, and was named Double- A South Player of the week for the first time in his career with the Trash Pandas.
“It was something very exciting,” Martinez said he was proud of himself for having such a good week, “Above all the moment that impacted me the most was the first week of the season. In one game I hit three homeruns, I had never done that in my career,” Smiling as he thought back, “I was extremely happy and so were my parents,” Martinez said.
Playing for Jay Bell, Martinez says has been a dream come true to him, “You can tell that he cares about his players,” while he sees himself being able to achieve his dreams of the Major Leagues, he knows he can’t do it without those who are most important to him.
“Mom, dad, thank you for the support always,” Martinez said gleefully, “Their wishes to always see me triumph, their desire to want me to reach the highest point of baseball, they’re my biggest source of energy to get out and play, stay healthy and achieve my dreams.”
There is more to a Cuban baseball player than just his raw talent, his struggle is what makes him so great. These men often times leave everything they know behind, family, friends and piece of their heart in hopes of a better life. From the sobs of leaving their loved ones, to the roar of thousands cheering them on, they can’t help but feel indifferent.
Thankful for the opportunity of a better life, but the heartbreak of not being able to see where they hit their first home run or where they first learned how to swing a bat, those memories are just that, memories.
The last out is called, another day has gone by and another game is won. Running back towards the dugout, they hear the glory from all the screaming fans. But, one things for certain that extra bounce in their step, the kiss they throw up towards the sky, that walk up music that brings the island to the states, that’s for Cuba.
Never knowing if they’ll see home or their loved ones again, they continue to hope. For Cubans baseball isn’t just baseball, it’s Cuba.