Cuban closer, dancer team up in Cincinnati
CINCINNATI -- Reds closer Aroldis Chapman hunched down like a catcher and held up his glove as a target. The pitcher jumped straight up, did a 360-degree spin in the air, landed gracefully and threw.
The tour en l'air? Beautiful. The fastball? Could use a little work.
With that gorgeous spin and wobbly throw, Cuban baseball met Cuban ballet in Cincinnati.
As part of a promotion with the Cincinnati Ballet, the Reds are uniting two of the island's famous performers. Ballet principal dancer Cervilio Miguel Amador, who left Cuba in 2003, will throw a ceremonial pitch before a game against Milwaukee on Sunday.
The catcher? Chapman, who defected in 2009.
Amador played baseball in the streets as a boy, though never on a team. He's been with Cincinnati Ballet since 2004, a principal dancer the last eight years.
"In Cuba, I think they call it the three big Bs -- ballet, baseball and boxing is huge in Cuba," Amador said. "They're different worlds, but they're very, very popular."
When the Reds signed Chapman after he defected, the two of them met at the birthday party of a mutual acquaintance.
"Right away, we started playing ping pong and we became friends from there," Amador said.
Their get-togethers involve reminiscing about Cuba as well as chatting about their careers. Amador had a wish.
"I was like man, it would be cool to throw the first pitch one day," Amador said. "The Cincinnati Ballet contacted the Reds to do some collaboration. They made Cincinnati Ballet day at the ballpark, then they asked if I can throw the first pitch."
There was never any question about who would do the crouching.
First, Amador had to work on his delivery. He got in contact with Josh Anderson, the general manager of the nearby Florence Freedom from the Frontier League.
"Gave me a half-hour lesson on how to throw," Amador said. "So I went there and listen to what he had to say, practice a little bit. I really liked it. Then I asked Chapman to give me some lessons, have some fun. He said to come by today and that's what we did. I came by today and tried it again."
Amador got a Reds jersey with No. 50 and CBALLET on the back. He and Chapman went onto the grass in foul territory at Great American Ball Park before the start of batting practice on Friday to work on their pitch-and-catch routine.
It was easy to tell which was which from afar. Amador tried different ballet moves before making a throw, seeing what might work on Sunday when he takes the mound before the final game of the series.
"I'm trying to decide if I want to do some trick and throw it," he said. "We'll see."
After his brief workout with the hard-throwing Reds closer, he had a greater appreciation of what it takes to heave one 100 mph.
"Oh my God," Amador said. "It's crazy! It's really difficult."
Reds manager Dusty Baker made a diplomatic visit to Cuba a few years ago and was impressed by the dancers.
"Those guys are amazing," Baker said. "Pound for pound, those guys and gymnasts are some of the strongest people I know about.
"Music, arts and jazz are huge in Cuba. When I was there, I was amazed. They take them at a young age and develop their skills. I had no clue how big it was until I was there."
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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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