We certainly didn't go looking for controversy, but we found it anyway.
Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria are fascinating figures. Renteria represents the face of Colombian baseball, while Cabrera is the outcast. The desire to invest in the Colombian Professional League had been part of a renaissance for Cabrera that was spurred on mostly by his second wife Katie, a strong American from Boston who had forced a dramatic change of lifestyle on the once hard-partying shortstop. She also helped him grow intellectually (he was reading one of Ayn Rand's tomes when I met with him in January), socially (he had become more conscious of his role as a representative of his country) and psychologically (he began to understand the ramifications of his family's tumultuous history). When I met with Cabrera in his condominium in Cartegena, a surprisingly modest space, I found him to be engaging, intelligent and very funny.
Meeting with Renteria at his home in Barranquilla was a different experience. He had reluctantly agreed to meet, and had only been convinced to do so by his enterprising older brother Edinson. I soon found out why Renteria had been so reluctant. The responsibilities as Colombia's baseball ambassador are great and the demands for his time are intense. That is why he spends a large part of his offseason in Miami — to find peace.
"It's a huge responsibility," he said. "I'm a player in a sport that's not too popular. If you ask a Dominican player they would say they have it easier because there are so many of them that are well known. I have to be the best example and act properly on and off the field."
When I think about how things went wrong between the Cabreras and the Renterias I go back to something Cabrera said to me when I asked him why he and Edgar Renteria did not work together more often. "He works in Barranquilla, I work here," Cabrera said. "If we were to work together, it would create problems. It's like having a family business. Cartagena and Barranquilla are just different places."
It was only afterward, after getting to know Cabrera better, when I realized that his analogy to family was not a complimentary one since all he had known with family was dysfunction and mistrust.
I think back to an Almost Famous moment I had with Cabrera in Detroit during that weekend when Renteria had lashed out at him. Much like Billy Crudup's character in that film told the young reporter to write the truth, Cabrera essentially told me to go ahead and write what I saw since it was the ugly truth, controversy be damned.
Hopefully, I did.