DENVER -- Nolan Arenado was born and raised in California, surrounded by a large extended Cuban family. His dad, Fernando, is originally from Guantanamo, and his mom, Millie, was born in New York to a Puerto Rican mother and a Cuban father.
The 25-year-old Colorado Rockies third baseman grew up very proud of his Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage, which he credits for making him the type of player he is today.
“Growing up in a Latin family has given me my charisma out there, my swag,” Arenado said in a one-on-one interview with ESPN.com. “I try to be very confident, and I get that from my family. They enjoy and take pride in what they do; I get that from them. That’s the way we are, even playing Wiffle ball!”
And it is precisely that Cuban-Puerto Rican heritage that has set up an interesting choice for Arenado ahead of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
According to WBC rules, players are allowed to represent a nation if they are a permanent legal resident of the nation or territory the team represents, or if they were born or have a parent that was born there.
Players may also be allowed to play for a national team if a grandparent or great-grandparent was born there, although those requests are approved on a case-by-case basis and require the player to submit official evidence (a birth certificate or its equivalent) to Major League Baseball for approval.
This flexibility allows many second-generation Americans to honor the heritage of their grandparents, which Arenado would be doing if he played for his maternal grandmother’s native island of Puerto Rico, an option that he told ESPN he is “strongly considering."
“Playing in the World Baseball Classic is something that I truly want to do,” he said. “It only happens every three, four years, and I think it’s important. I really want to do it. I am talking it over with my family and we still haven’t decided what we are going to do.”
“I have already looked at [Puerto Rico’s] lineup and I think it would be pretty cool to be a part of it. But for me it’s all about family, that I represent them the right way. That’s what’s most important to me.”
Arenado was referring to a lineup that will probably include 2015 Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa and runner-up Francisco Lindor, super utility man Kike Hernandez and eight-time Gold Glove and four-time Platinum Glove winner Yadier Molina.
Astros outfielder George Springer, whose mom, Laura, was born in Puerto Rico, has already said he will suit up for the team. Aces Jake Arrieta and Marcus Stroman (Arrieta’s grandfather was born in Puerto Rico and Stroman’s mother is a native of the island) also are considering joining Team Puerto Rico, which was the runner-up in 2013 to the champion Dominican Republic.
Arenado also could choose to play for Cuba, but in a recent news conference, the president of Cuba's National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, Antonio Becali, said that they will continue to use only athletes who have remained in their native land to represent the country at international events.
Since each National Federation has the sole right to select their team’s roster for the upcoming WBC, Becali’s statement implies that defectors would not be allowed to play for Cuba.
This would mean MLB stars such as Jose Fernandez, Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Kendrys Morales would be banned from the team, as would players of Cuban-American heritage, like Arenado.
Arenado explained that even if Cuba reconsidered and came knocking at his door, it would be difficult to make a decision to play for the team because his family includes refugees affected by the dictatorship.
Nonetheless, he was deeply moved by the landmark game held between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team at Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano on March 22, the first visit by a major-league team to the communist island since 1999.
“It made me really want to go to Cuba. I talked to my agent about it -- to go in the offseason. I would love to play out there. I think it would be an awesome thing, to wear the 'rojo' pants. But I always go back to my family,” he said. “I would have to ask my mom and dad if they would be OK with it. They were the ones who were directly affected by Cuba; it’s a very sensitive subject for a lot of Cubans.”
The two-time Gold Glove winner, who has a .306 average and ranks among the National League leaders in many categories -- he's first in home runs (13) and runs scored (30), second in RBIs (32) and third in slugging (.633) -- would be a welcome addition to an already talented and young Puerto Rican team, which is operating under new general manager and former major leaguer Alex Cora.
“In Arenado we would have one of the most complete and athletic players in the majors today; he would be an asset to any team,” Cora said. “We all know what kind of player and human being he is. It would be incredible for the team and something that all the people of Puerto Rico would love.”