DES MOINES, Iowa -- More than two dozen Iowa Cubs baseball players will hit the field for Thursday’s season opener with the dream of getting called up to a Major League roster.
That dream was nearly derailed for one player because of decades-worth of tension between the United States and Cuba.
Baseball may be considered America’s past time, but for the I-Cubs' Cuban-born pitcher, it’s much more.
“I started when I was 8-years-old, so it’s my life. All my life, all I’d do was baseball,” Armando Rivero said.
Major League teams took notice of Rivero’s talent and 96 mph fast ball in 2011. But because of severed relations between the United States and Cuba over the last five decades, Rivero said he had one option -- to escape his homeland.
“Wow, it’s a bad story. I came in a boat,” he said. “Two nights and two days on a boat. Trust me it’s scary. I came with my brother and my wife.”
Even though baseball is allowing the right-handed reliever to fulfill a childhood dream, it’s one he’s not sure he’d even be willing to repeat.
“I had to go to the Dominican Republic and stayed there for a year. And after that, I went to Haiti and lived in Haiti for six months. It’s too hard man,” Rivero said.
The difficult journey is paying off after signing a contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2013 and a full season with the I-Cubs in 2015. Rivero is now one step closer to the ultimate goal: A big league roster.
“It’s scary, but I’m here. Thank God for the opportunity. That’s what happened in my life. It won’t happen anymore,” he said.
Thankfully for future Cuban ballplayers, in President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro began normalizing relations in December 2014. It has even led to a loosening of travel and banking restrictions and also a Major League baseball team traveling to Cuba for the first time since 1999.
“I think maybe next year, a couple games more. So, I want to play there, so I’m excited for that,” Rivero said.
As optimism continues surrounding the relations between Cuba and America, Rivero hopes for two things: to see his sister once again and play for the Cuban national team.
“I’ve haven’t seen her in five years, so I’m excited to play there or visit Cuba. I’m waiting for an opportunity to go back to Cuba,” he said.
Since Rivero defected in 2011, his parents have now moved to the United States and live with him in Miami.