2021, the Year of the Cuban in Sports
Cubans left their marks in 2021, from Rookie of the Year to the Hall of Fame
In many ways, 2021 was the Year of the Cuban in American sports. The Cuban impact was felt far beyond the baseball diamond or any field of play.
As their countrymen rose against the Cuban government, Cuban ballplayers spoke out in support in a chorus unseen since the late Fidel Castro took power.
Cubans and Cuban Americans shone on the field, in the gridiron and the boxing ring this year.
In college football, Zach Calzada led the biggest upset of the year. He guided Texas A&M to a stunning victory over No. 1 ranked Alabama in October. A few weeks later, another Cuban became the World Series MVP.
As we look back on the Year of the Cuban, let’s start with the protests back home.
Cuban ‘Patria y Vida’ protests reverberated
Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, one of the most high profile Cuban big leaguers, used the MLB All-Star Game platform to show his support for the protesters.
He wrote the “Patria y Vida” slogan on his cap during the All-Star Game. A day earlier, he wrote that motto on his shirt during the Home Run Derby. Texas Rangers rookie outfielder Adolis Garcia also expressed his support at he All-Star Game.
A month later, Cuban boxer Yordenis Ugas beat the legendary Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. “Patria y Vida” was written on the back of Ugas’ trunks during the fight.
Ugas is close friends with Chapman, so his support for the protesters was no surprise.
Almost every Cuban big leaguer, after all, spoke out in support of the protesters. They did it in interviews, through social media posts or by wearing shirts with the “Patria y Vida” mantra.
Another batting champ, Gurriel
Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel won the American League batting title. He became only the second native of Cuba to win a batting title. He joined Tony Oliva on that exclusive list.
Gurriel helped the Astros reach the World Series, dispatching fellow Cuban Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz of the Tampa Bay Rays along the way.
Unfortunately for Gurriel, countryman Jorge Soler propelled the Atlanta Braves over the Astros in the World Series. Soler earned the World Series MVP Award after his home run display in the Fall Classic.
A few weeks later, Arozarena was named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Cuban flair to new Hall of Fame class
Then in December Oliva was finally elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was joined in the class by the late Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, a Cuban legend who was the first Black Latino in the major leagues.
Cubans did it all this year, whether winning the Rookie of the Year or finally earning their places among the immortals in Cooperstown, N.Y.
On the field, in the boxing ring, on the gridiron and on the streets, they demanded to be counted and treated with respect. They excelled while lending their voices to their countrymen fighting for freedom back home.
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