Before the 2020 Major League Baseball season saw it’s first pitch I offered pre-season predictions like I always do. More often than not I am dead wrong in my predictions; hello Shohei Ohtani as this year’s American League Cy Young winner. For me, the reality is that being right or wrong about end-of-season awards doesn’t matter as much as throwing darts at a wall. We all want to see new blood rise up, we want to see new stars born. That’s why it was really easy for me to slot Luis Robert in as my runner up in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.
We’re a few weeks away from the end of the season, and you know what, my Robert prediction is pretty close to panning out. The 23-year-old is sixth in the AL in fWAR at 1.7, only a few ticks behind Nelson Cruz’s 2.2 at the top of the leaderboard. Robert has accumulated that total by slashing .265/.331/.544 with a WRC+ of 134. He’s also been a treat on the basepaths; his 4.8 Spd is barely above average but all one has to do is watch Robert anytime he is on base and they will have a large smile on their face. For some reason, people thought the Cuban export would struggle with his defense. Apparently those same people weren’t aware of Robert’s incredibly high baseball IQ and pure athleticism. His DRS of 9 in center field currently leads every AL position player.
Naturally, the Chicago White Sox and their fans are bursting with joy at the fact that they have a legitimate star on their hands in Robert. No matter what happens with the other core players in their rebuild the Chi Sox have a bonafide stud to pin all their hopes and dreams on. However, it’s not the Sox themselves or fans of Chicago’s South Side team that are the happiest for Robert’s success. No, it’s not me either, rather it’s the Cuban baseball community.
Serie Nacional de Béisbol (or Cuban National Series to some) has been a big part of my baseball life for the past few years. It has become my favorite professional baseball league the world over. In addition to all the great games, elite talent, the ravenous crowds, and the thrill of CNS postseason ball the league has allowed me to become acquainted with a rather large number of Cuban baseball fans. I have talked Cuban baseball with everyone from casual blokes who only care about the success of Toros de Camagüey, to diehard fans who attend any game they can, to professional reporters and writers who cover the league, and Cuban ex-pats who still follow their home league religiously.
In all my conversations with Cuban baseball fans, I have come to know one resounding truth; they live and die with the success of Cuban players on the international stage. They are heavily invested in the success, or lack thereof, of the Cuban national teams, but they also keep a close eye on any Cuban who finds themselves playing in Japan, Korea, America, or anywhere else on the globe. Once a Cuban ballplayer, always a Cuban ballplayer, and Cuban fans love their Cuban ballplayers.
I’m sure Sox fans love them some Luis Robert, but nothing can match the pure, unfettered joy that comes through in every Cuban baseball fan who talks to me about the success of Luis Robert. On some level, every Cuban ballplayer who finds themselves abroad takes on a mythic status. It’s not that they escaped the island or anything political like that, rather it is the idea that they are taking the game of Cuban baseball and showing the rest of the world why Cuban baseball is the best. When Robert makes a mistake or has a bad game it’s not a matter of a mistake being made. Instead, Cuban fans will be quick to remind you that even the best can be shaky but don’t worry, Robert will have an even better game tomorrow.
The amazing thing about Robert is that he has delivered on his mythological status. He isn’t always on his A-game, but you can rest assured that he quickly follows up his B-game with a monstrous performance. When I am talking to Cuban baseball fans about Robert’s big games it’s hard to describe the feeling that permeates the discussion. It’s almost as if I can feel the huge smile on the other end of the computer. With every word that comes across the What’s App screen, I can feel the love that person has for Robert and all that his accomplishments mean to the Cuban people. It’s truly an amazing moment to be a part of, each and every time I know it’s happening.
Heroes don’t always pan out, the myth often never matches reality. In the case of Luis Robert, he is only serving to build his myth while an entire nation beams with pride over their new hero. Baseball needs good in it, especially right here and now. The love, affection, and unadulterated joy that Cuban baseball fans express towards their fellow Cubano is good for baseball. More than that, the happiness that Robert brings to his fellow countrymen and the pride he takes in playing for them is good for the soul.