NEW YORK -- Aroldis Chapman will have more than one thing on his mind Monday.
While his first game at Yankee Stadium will mark his comeback from a 30-game suspension, the first such ban bestowed under MLB’s new domestic violence policy, for Chapman much of it will be about family -- the relatives with him in New York, and a second family of up-and-coming teammates he mentored in Tampa.
After recently coming over from Cuba, his sister Yusmila will be in the stands of an MLB stadium for the first time Monday night, along with his parents, his girlfriend Cristina Barnea and their daughter Angelina.
Barnea will be in attendance with the 11-month-old as Chapman puts on the pinstripes for the very first time at Yankee Stadium, six months after being investigated by MLB for an alleged domestic violence incident in their Florida home.
Chapman refuses to talk about that day beyond "I have left it behind me" and "It’s all in the past and I have moved on from it." He claims he never harmed his girlfriend; that things were misinterpreted.
He says now he’s solely focused on baseball and on helping the Yankees win. A Yankees team he has seen treading the bottom of the division, the same place he got so used to for so many seasons with the Reds.
“When I was in Cincinnati, the team was doing so badly, and now I come here with the team not doing so well; yes, it’s a little frustrating," said Chapman in a one-on-one Spanish-language interview in his Tampa home before traveling to New York. “But it’s been only a month. That says nothing. It’s too early to say.”
Chapman has no idea what kind of reception he will get from Yankees fans the first moment he steps on the mound in the Bronx, but admits he feels he has little margin for error.
“The most difficult thing is that I’ve been at extended [spring training] and that’s not the same pressure. It’s not the same focus; it’s not the same tempo,” he said. “I’ve been pitching at the lowest level. To immediately switch to a big-league level will be the hardest thing to adapt to, because you can easily make a mistake. I’ve had no one to compete against; Monday I will."
“That’s the best part; sounds pretty exciting,” he said.
The “Cuban Missile," as he’s nicknamed due to his lethal fastball that surpasses 100 mph, has been anxious to get back in a big league uniform to help his team climb out of the early hole it has dug itself in the American League East.
But at the same time, he said he enjoyed the time he spent in Tampa, thanks to the numerous young prospects who looked to him for advice.
After each side session, bullpen session or simulated game throughout his month-long suspension, Chapman remained in the stands talking with the Yankees rookie league youngsters, among them Dominican pitching prospects Adonis Rosa, Isaac Padilla and Rafael Lara, plus Venezuelan Luis Cedeno.
He said he used the time in extended spring training to not only reflect and “learn a little more every day” but also to be an example to other young Latin players.
“There were so many young kids. There are many Latinos there, Dominicans, Venezuelans. They look at you like you’re someone so big, someone they really look up to. I made myself available to them so they could come up to me and talk,” he said. “I told them they have to train hard, but not aimlessly. They have to have specific goals in mind that will allow them to improve and move on from the level they are. I talked to them about what they need to do on and off the field, especially being professional and polite. It helped me to help them.
“What's in the past has already happened; I can’t go back,” Chapman said. “I don’t think about it. I focus on being with my family, on being with my sister, on preparing the best way possible and being 100 percent ready to help the team.”