This interview is dedicated to Yadel Martí, “this time green but always a lion”
In the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBSC) all Cuba traveled with his pitches. Some breathed his air and other vibrated with his leisurely spirit, where hope for victory has always prevailed. Who remembers Yadel Martí? Many do, and yearn to see him once again with the number 90 in the mound of the Latinoamericano Stadium. Others wonder where he is now pitching, with his usual straw in the mouth and this double movement of his pitching foot.
His appearances against Panama and Venezuela at Hiram Bithorn of Puerto Rico and his game tossed in the semifinal against Dominican Republic (which Pedro Luis Lazo would win), left a mark in the pupil of the Cuban fans. In an era (after 2000) where the Cuba baseball team was no longer Goliath against David, for about 12.2 innings Yadel Martí seemed to be Goliath again, when no team could score a run against him in the tournament. Yadel Martí was elected to the All-Star team of the 2006 WBSC with the distinction of being the leader in ERA (0.00), along with pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka (3 games won) and Johan Santana (best reliever).
Yadel Martí left Cuba between 2008 and 2009. In 2011 he signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics. He pitched in AAA with the Sacramento River Cats (5-1) 4.92, after injury he was sent to Class A Advanced (Stockton Port) and then he piyched in AA with the Midland Rock Hound (2-0) and 0.75. Yadel was not being appreciated by the franchise and decided to ask to be released to pitch in the Mexican League where he perceived a better salary. In this interval the possibility of reaching the majors, the dream of every baseball player vanished.
But Yadel Martí does not think of things that could be and were not. He trains daily in Fontainebleau in Miami-Dade County, looking to stay in baseball for a while. He is 35 and continues to defy adversity and trying to continue the path to an honorable end. OnCuba spoke to Yadel about past, present and future.
How is Yadel Martí´s life? Do you think you will retire or continue a few more years in baseball?
Well right now I’m out of work in baseball but I would love some team gave me the opportunity to return for two more years. I’m getting ready for that.
Where are you training or preparing yourself?
I’m training in the afternoon, about 5:30 pm at Tamiami Park, along a great friend and former player, Hanzel Izquierdo. He is helping me.
Traveling backwards: How do you remember your explosion as a pitcher in the first World Baseball Classic in 2006?
Well I think that not even me expected that explosion. I really did not come as a frontline pitcher, because I was not well regarded by the manager Higinio Velez, to whom I thank for what he did, because it forced me to put effort to counter what he thought of me as a player.
Do you still remember when you said on camera, “San Diego, San Diego, who was going to say it, we do not believe in anyone”?
I never thought my performance would be what it was, because looking at it from the point of view of him (Higinio Vélez) I would not have many opportunities, but life took a turn and see that I did well. My colleagues and I gave him a deserved 2nd place to Cuba at the highest level that our baseball had participated. Although I prepared well, I did not think my work would become so prominent. However, I relied heavily on me and my colleagues. And yes, indeed, I did not believe in anyone.
What is your best memory of the Classic? Do you have a particular anecdote or any special memories?
Well I remember everything, like today. And honestly there was something not forgotten. I did not know I would be the starter against Venezuela and they told me in the morning, after a call from Fidel. He said: “I am 100% sure that you will win today.” Fidel told me he also had told Chávez, and that I would then say why he was so sure I was going to win that game. After the victory he called me and told me that he had told Chavez that he would win because I brought a Martí in the mound and he had no Bolívar. He is only one to come up with things like that. (Yadel laughs). Very imaginative, I respect him a lot but we think differently.
Returning to the Classic, How were things? What year did you leave and why you decided to travel and find another way?
In the Classic I had many offers to defect but had my family and I felt good in Cuba. I also had great pride to get back and see how my life would be after the Classic. I also wanted to see how the people, and especially the Latin American Stadium would receive me after two years earlier had booed me for a bad season. And really, if it were not for Higinio Vélez I would not have gone. In 2007, after my defeat against the United States, Higinio said I should give way to young figures. Had it not been for that, I would have never left Cuba.
You get to the Oakland franchise in 2011 and then in the minors you put good numbers (7-1). Tell us what happened that year you could not continue your career in the majors.
I did not think I arrived at a prudent age or with very good numbers. The staff of Oakland was impressive. They sent to AA and I preferred to be released to go to Mexico for better pay.
Do you think that would have happened with your career had you arrived younger, or this is a thing of the past?
Sometimes I think about it, but I fail to imagine, because I met a woman who gave me a beautiful 2 year old daughter and although we parted I would not change anything that has happened in these last seven years of my life. I believe that only God could say what would have happened, but I do not imagine it not regret it. God knew what He did and why He did it.
Between 2012 and 2014 you were playing in the Mexican baseball. How did it go there?
Last season I changed to the Pericos de Puebla, where perhaps I was not given many opportunities. That I did not do all that well, but my numbers in Mexico were very good both in summer league and in the winter, or so I think.
Right now you are preparing hard. Do you think you still have some time in baseball?
I think I need a chance. I’m not so strong now, but I’m preparing and think with an option could reach or approach 100 percent to see if there is Yadel for two more years. And as I pulled away, I want my baseball to give me a break to continue my emotional life which is not very good.
Do you still miss the Latinoamericano and wearing the blue jersey?
Well I’m so Havana man, such as metropolitano and industrialista as ever. I think that blue jersey is the greatest and grateful that I could use. It has been one of the greatest blessings that God gave me after my family.
What message would you like to send to those have never forgotten you, both in Cuba than outside.
I want all my fans to know that I’m honored to know that they remember me and that consider my accomplishments and failures, my bad and good times. Forgive me because sometimes, though I always tried to do my best and things didn’t go well. Please excuse my absence for seven years, having me in their minds and hearts as a man of the people. I am very happy to have lived knowing that I am still remembered. Thank you very much everyone. Yadel Martí is from the people and for the people.