As part of the season-long Béisbol Experience rollout, we will be releasing an interview every day from June 15 to 25. Find all of them at espn.com/beisbolexperience.
This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated. Read it in Spanish here.
In 2009, Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarría got on a boat headed toward Mexico with 11 other defectors in the hopes of making it to MLB. He was 20 at the time. Today, he remembers his transition to a new country, the family he left behind and his father's unsuccessful attempts to follow him to the U.S.
What was the hardest thing for you when you first came from Cuba to the United States?
When I entered the United States, the hardest thing was adapting to the language. When you come from a non-English-speaking country, talking to people is too difficult, to the point where you do not learn. It's very hard to reach the point where you can talk to people.
When you didn't speak English, how did you order food?
I usually went with a Latino friend who spoke English and Spanish. But sometimes when I had to go alone when I was hungry, I wouldn't just stay there starving. I'd go to the mall and gesture. I spoke to them in Spanish. An example: "I want that one there." When they knew that I didn't know anything more than that, they also made gestures at me: "This?" Me: "Not that, this!" The first thing I learned to order was steak with french fries.
I stuck with Latinos, and they helped me a lot. A team coach, I think his name was Danny Solano, helped me [a] lot when I was moving up within baseball. I really want to thank him. Otherwise, I tried to go to English class but did not really learn anything. English doesn't really stick with me. But I learned because the Latinos were telling me, "You'll learn more if you talk to people. Let loose, make things up, throw words around." So I started to do that, to throw words around and listen to people. When I heard something, I asked, "What does that mean?" and I tried to learn it, to memorize it. Little by little I started to learn other words, and now I can more or less hold my own.
How much of your social circle is made up of American players or Latino players?
Normally I feel more comfortable with Latinos. I also talk to the gringos [non-Hispanic Americans], with Dee Gordon who is next to my locker. That helped me practice a lot. He spoke to me in English, and I spoke to him in English and Spanish.
Is it important to you to date a Latina girl?
I liked the gringo girls. My girlfriend is Cuban but born here and doesn't speak much Spanish.
What are the main differences between fans in the U.S. and in Latin America?
When I played in Cuba, if you strike out or make an error they'll yell all sorts of things at you. So normally, the Cuban feels that if he strikes out and runs toward the dugout, the faster you get to the dugout the better.
When you have to be separated from your family for a long time, is it hard for you?
Yes. That's the hardest. I went almost two years without seeing my family. It was extremely difficult. Sometimes you talked to your family, and they cried or you can see how sad they are. You have to fight twice as hard to succeed -- for you, for your family and fight mentally because you miss your family and you want them close
When I was playing in Double-A, I was in the course of getting my dad by boat, and they caught him 13 times. They caught him, they put him in prison for four or five days to see if they'd get anything from him. "Who is sending you over here?" But afterward they'd release him. There were times when they caught him and said, "You again, compadre [buddy]? You're not going to go. Stop trying." They had him watched.