SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado spent Thanksgiving losing himself -- as much as possible for a baseball star -- in his family's homeland of Cuba. He returned to the United States thankful.
Arenado's grandfather, Gerardo, was a political prisoner in Fidel Castro's Cuba. Arenado's father Fernando, his twin brother and 12-year-old cousin were allowed to come to the United States. Gerardo left Cuba and went to Spain, before later receiving a visa to come to America.
Having heard the family stories of the homeland, Arenado, 25, always wondered what it would be like to see it for himself. With relaxed travel restrictions, the family made the trip in November. It was special for his father, who hadn't been back since the family left. It was powerful for the Rockies' third baseman.
The family didn't call attention to Arenado's lists of baseball awards or to the athletic exploits of his family, which includes his younger brother, Jonah, a corner infielder in the Giants' system, and older brother, Cousy, an accomplished surfer. The bond attracted them.
"I'd been dreaming and wanting to do this trip for a very long time," Nolan Arenado said. "It was just a family trip. We were treated like family. People weren't looking at me in awe.
"A lot of people don't get to watch Rockies games over there, so they don't know me. They just know my grandfather, and know the last name."
The tour took the Arenados to Havana, Matanzas and Vinales. They visited Guantanamo, where Fernando was born.
Of course, being one of baseball's top stars visiting a country that loves the game, Arenado could be anonymous for only so long. And, wouldn't you know, eventually the bats and balls came out.
"Baseball season was over -- the leagues were in playoffs when we went," said Arenado, who will play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. "So the guys that play baseball, they go and play in a men's softball league. Me, my brothers, my dad and my cousins played a little softball game against them. It was great fun."
About a month and a half after returning, Arenado signed a two-year, $29.5 million contract with the Rockies. But he did so with a humble heart and a level head. In part it was because his parents, Fernando and Millie (whose Puerto Rican roots run deep enough that Nolan considered playing for that team in the Classic), taught him that way. The Cuban connection reinforced the lessons.
"They don't need all the material stuff, the money and all that," Arenado said. "But they seem at peace -- somewhat. Obviously, they live under some tough rule. But people are unbelievably loving, caring. When you see people that are struggling, don't have what I have and are happy, it puts things in perspective."
Arenado said as much as possible he wanted to be "underground" on this trip. The next one, not so much. But it's because he doesn't want to flaunt. He is talking to his family about ways to use his status to serve.
"I want to do a clinic there sometime in the future," he said. "That's in the works right now. It's part of my faith and part of how my parents raised me, to be humble and be thankful for what you have.
"There are certain things that drive me, and money really isn't it. There are more things in this world that I care about."