MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Arenado inspired by MLB's Cuba visit

Rockies third baseman's grandfather was a political prisoner of Castro

Arenado inspired by MLB's Cuba visit

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For Nolan Arenado, the moment was surreal. Seated on a couch in the Rockies' Spring Training clubhouse, he stared at the television, taking in every moment of the telecast of the opening moments of the Rays' game against the Cuban national team in Havana, which the Rays won, 4-1.

Arenado's grandfather was once a political prisoner of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. His father, at the age of 6, was able to escape Cuba and eventually come to the United States in the early 1960s. His heritage has created a hunger for Arenado to absorb as much information as possible about the island country.

Rockies Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Information

"It is something I wish I could do," said Arenado. "I would love to play a game there. I feel it is important to someday go back, to see the country. That is who I am. It is my family's homeland.

"It is something I am going to do. I want to watch a game there. I want to be in that stadium. I want to be able to take bats and gloves and balls down there for the children, to share with them what I have been able to enjoy."

It is, said Fernando Arenado, Nolan's father, a different world than his son has ever known.

Rays
Historic Cuba visit
Historic Cuba game filled with thrills
Manfred seeks relationship between MLB, Cuba
Varona first to play in Cuba after defecting
Cuba visit an emotional time for Archer
President Obama's gameday in Havana

Sights & sounds
MLB returns to Cuba
Santos' sliding catch
Obama greets Jeter
Rays shake hands with Obama
Kiermaier scores game's first run

For that, Fernando is thankful. His memories of his homeland are limited.

"I remember the apartment we lived in, buggies with horses," he said. "When you are a kid, a horse is huge."

Fernando Arenado, his twin brother and parents were allowed to leave Cuba for Spain, eventually coming to the United States.

"My brother and I came right away, along with my 12-year-old cousin, but my parents couldn't come to the United States until later," said Fernando, who is spending some time watching his son during Spring Training. "It took time for my father to get a visa in Spain. My brother and I spent eight, nine months living with our aunt in Westminster, Calif."

Fernando's father, Gerardo -- or Yito as his friends call him -- was on a list of names that Castro's military found in the possession of a person involved with the rebels, who were leading a revolt against the Castro regime. A business he owned, a country club, was confiscated by the government.

"They told him he could work there if he wanted," said Fernando, who does not know all the details.

Gerardo was able to leave Cuba, but took little with him.

"He was fortunate, he only spent three years in prison," said Fernando. "Some spent 20, 25 years in prison. A lot were executed."

Fernando's memories were stirred by Tuesday's game.

"I didn't think it would be emotional, but then I saw it on TV," he said. "... All they want is liberty and freedom. They want to be able to have business and live the right way. That's the emotional part."

Fernando shook his head.

"You want things to change for the people who live there," he said. "You want the people to be able to come to the United States on a vacation and then go home."

Maybe someday it can happen. Maybe a crack in the door is appearing. Fernando, however, knows what was seen on television wasn't what Cuba is really about.

In recent years, the Cubans who defected came on rafts through the Caribbean, risking imprisonment if they were captured by Cuban officials. But even when Fernando and his parents left, they were allowed to take little with them.

"You came with the clothes on your back," he said. "Women who were married hid their wedding rings. They would take them from you before you were allowed on the plane."

Fernando, like his son, cares about the people still in Cuba. He has cousins on the island.

He feels he was one of the fortunate ones.

"I am so blessed to be in this country," Fernando said. "The United States is the best country in the world. We have freedom of speech. We have the ability to express ourselves.

"I am proud to say I am a Cuban-American. I tell my kids how blessed they are to be born in this country, but I am proud of Cuba, too. We have a heritage and customs that come from Cuba that we cherish."

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.