The Los Angeles Dodgers could very well adopt the Cuban flag as their own after the past few years.
Yasiel Puig, Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena, Pablo Fernandez and Hector Olivera have all been signed from the country in recent years, with Puig being the biggest star of the group, and possibly the Dodgers. Once the Dodgers hit it big with Puig, the Dodgers were rumored or linked to just about every Cuban that hit the open market. Olivera was their latest splash signing, inking the 30-year-old infielder to a six-year, $62.5 million deal that was finalized this week.
What many don’t know or understand is the difficulties that these players undergo that extends beyond the baseball field. The Dodgers’ vice president of international scouting, Bob Engle, told of these difficulties via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
We have to understand that culturally, this is quite a jump, to be in the Cuban environment and then suddenly come to the United States,” said Bob Engle, the Dodgers’ vice president of international scouting, who signed Guerrero and Arruebarrena. “It’s a heck of a transition. Forget the baseball part. I’m just talking about all of the other things involved.”
While it may seem Puig had a seamless transition, he continues to deal with media that takes issue with his style and flair, not to mention the chilling story on how he escaped Cuba that was highlighted last year. Players must deal with escaping the country, finding home in another country, setting up workouts, signing with a team, getting a U.S. visa, adjusting to another new country and finally, playing baseball (usually after a period in which they are not playing games).
While many believed Guerrero was going to be the team’s starting second baseman last season, he dealt with some of these issues that didn’t allow him to take the position like expected. He’s now contributing to the Dodgers at third base and in left field, something that wasn’t easy to do:
This was a player who was off for a year,” said Engle of Guerrero. “You can’t expect someone to come back and hit the ground running and be what we knew he could be. We tend to forget everything they had to go through to get here, things we take for granted. He’s been through a lot. It’s been frustrating for him.”
Meanwhile, there’s been no sign of Arruebarrena after he spent some time in the big leagues last season. Engle gave a brief update:
[Arruebarrena is] a different personality, a work in the making,” said Engle. “We just have to stick with him, and we will.”
The team will now have to repeat the process with Olivera and Fernandez, but they are better suited now.