01/11/10 5:05 PM EST
Chapman learning about new home
Reds lefty knew little of MLB before defecting from Cuba
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
Under the bright lights of the interview room at Great American Ball Park, Chapman wore a sharp suit with a bright red tie dotted with white Cincinnati Reds logos. The 21-year-old Cuban defector had a new home after he signed a six-year contract worth $30.25 million.But being from an isolated Communist dictator-run nation, Chapman knew little to nothing about his new surroundings. "I have never heard of Cincinnati in the past," Chapman said through his interpreter. "I just became familiar with the team through the agency that is representing me." Chapman slipped on his new No. 54 jersey with the Reds wishbone "C" on the front but didn't know about the great players that had worn the logo before him. One reporter asked Chapman through his interpreter if he was aware of Reds great Tony Perez, the lone Cuban-born Hall of Famer player. "No," Chapman said as he laughed nervously. "We'll educate him on that. It's part of the education process," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty chimed in. The Reds have a rich history with Cuban players. Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida were among the first Cubans to play big league baseball when they debuted in 1911. Pitcher Dolf Luque was the first Cuban star in baseball and pitched in Cincinnati from 1918-29. In the 1950s, the Reds had a Triple-A team in Havana until Fidel Castro's regime rose to power. "When many of the interviews were conducted in Houston, many of the clubs asked, 'What was your favorite team growing up or who was your favorite player?'" Chapman agent Randy Hendricks said. "His answer was, 'We did not get to see American baseball in Cuba.' So he didn't know teams." To orientate Chapman, Hendricks' staff went on the Internet and showed him maps of the cities where teams were located, the types of stadiums they used and the makeup of the divisions, leagues and rosters. As the Reds became serious bidders, Chapman learned more about what would be his future team. "We went through the history of the Big Red Machine, talked about [owner] Bob Castellini and Walt Jocketty," Hendricks said. "They had a nucleus of good young players, and this was a team that really wanted to recapture the glory days of the Big Red Machine. We believed they meant it. We kept them in mind." Of course, Perez was a mainstay member of that Big Red Machine that won two World Series in 1975-76. The agency then helped Chapman with his due diligence about the current Reds team and its makeup. "A variable not to be underestimated is his manager [Dusty Baker] speaks Spanish, his catcher [Ramon Hernandez] speaks Spanish, his pitching coach [Bryan Price] speaks Spanish and 10 of the players on the 40-man roster are from Latin America," Hendricks said. Chapman left his entire family behind in Cuba after he defected in July during a tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Of course, he hoped his family could follow his professional career online by watching games, but he was realistic since he wasn't afforded such information growing up. "Not everybody in Cuba has access to the Internet," Chapman said.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.