Buster Olney is on vacation this week, and some folks with baseball ties have been filling in as guest columnists. Today: Cincinnati Reds catcher Brayan Pena, who was born and raised in Cuba before leaving his homeland at the age of 17. He has played 11 seasons in the big leagues for four different teams. He has some thoughts on players making the transition from Cuba to Major League Baseball.
Please be patient with us, because we are coming from a totally different system, and we grew up with a lot of oppression and mental torture from our government. I've seen situations in which coaches, the manager or the media didn't understand what the player meant to say, and there have been misunderstandings that have led to trouble.
It's important for us to know that we have 100 percent support from the teams, specifically in dealing with the media, because English is not our first language and this is a big issue for us. If we could communicate more effectively, it would bring us a lot of confidence. This is why it's important for the teams to provide actual translators -- not just teammates or coaches -- who know how to convey thoughts from Spanish to English. This is important for all Latino players, by the way, not just players from Cuba.
I didn't have time to go to school here in the United States because I was bouncing from playing in the summer season here to winter ball, and given the circumstances, I had to learn how to write in English. How? I watched television and used the captions, and I was not shy when I learned to speak with my teammates and coaches. I tell all young players from Cuba (or any other country in which English is not the primary language) that they should learn to speak the new language, and that way nobody will have to translate for them. You can go out and fight your own battles, speak for yourself and express yourself -- and not just in baseball, but in life in general.
Other players in the organization should learn a bit more about what we went through in Cuba, and how difficult it is to leave your country, your family and friends behind for a completely new life. If other players who didn't have that experience understood that better, I think the relationships with players from Cuba would be better, and there would be less drama and misunderstanding.
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association could learn more about the political and sociological situations, to help the players from Cuba. This way, there will be a greater understanding of what we represent here. This is more about us just playing professional baseball; it's bigger than the game, because we represent hopes, dreams and freedom to our people there. With the help of MLB and the MLBPA, the American people could understand us better.
There is no doubt that the language barrier was an enormous role in my early struggles, but the most difficult challenge was coping with the unknown about my family's future in Cuba, the fear for them and what the Cuban government would do to them and their livelihood. My father and mother were teachers, and they both got fired from their jobs out of reprisal after I left, and my heart was broken because I felt so guilty. Yet that really drove me even more to pursue my dream and make it to try and help them, and pay them back for all their support and sacrifice for me and my brothers.
Everybody is different. We all have different backgrounds and struggles, and we take different paths in trying to become successful in the majors.
But for me, America is the best thing that ever happened for me, because it gave me my baseball career, the freedom that I desperately wanted, and most importantly, my family, my wife and my kids. Moving forward, no matter what happens in Cuba, America will always be my home.
What follows is Buster Olney's notes and links portion of the column:
Strike-zone complaints continue
The private griping from hitters about the strike zone this year probably approaches what I remember hearing in the 1990s from batters about the zone called for Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. The feeling now, as it was then, is that pitchers are getting too much of an east-west zone called, inside and outside.