UNITED STATES – Mark who?
The emergence of Los Angeles Angels first baseman Kendry Morales as an elite Major League slugger this past regular season made the loss of Mark Teixeira over the winter “almost” obsolete.
The 26-year-old Cuban, who enjoyed a breakout season batting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs, hit five less long balls and drove in 14 runs fewer than Teixeira, who bolted to the Yankees for $180 million.
The Angels signed the talented switch-hitter to a six-year, $4.5 million deal in 2005 that included a $3 million bonus. But, unlike the majority of ballplayers that defect from the baseball-crazed island, the young power hitter had no choice but to ply his trade in the U.S. big leagues.
Morales was competing with the Cuban National Team at a tournament in Panama in 2003 when Cuban officials suspected him of planning to defect. The up and coming 20-year-old Industriales slugger was abruptly sent back to Cuba and banned from the domestic league.
The former Cuban National Series Rookie-of-the-Year, determined to play baseball again, attempted to leave Cuba on 12 different occasions. While rough seas often foiled his plans, he was also caught twice and spent three days in jail both instances.
Finally, in the summer of 2004, Morales succeeded in reaching Florida to pursue his dream of getting back onto the diamond.
Morales, who was one of eight players in the Major Leagues this past season from Cuba, told USA Today recently that playing in the “show” was never a dream for him.
“I never thought of playing (in the majors), but once I had that problem there, I tried to get here,” Morales said. “It wasn’t even in my mind before. I had my life pretty much made in Cuba.”
Fortunately, for the Angels, life changes plans.