-Tell us a little about what happened in New York?
-A strategy problem. When they changed me to Chicago I had eight wins and three losses, I was almost going to the All-Star game. Maybe they were expecting more from me, but I was much better in Chicago. I was with Ozzie (Guillen). I think Joe Torres has been one of the best managers I’ve had, but I prefer Ozzie’s spark. Also, I do not speak English. I do not speak English now, after ten years, and Ozzie speaks Spanish. We understood each other well.
– Is the best manager you’ve had?
Well, the biggest one I’ve had is Jorge Fuentes, he is a baseball savant.
-Your perfect team is…
-Catcher Ariel Pestano. That’s the best in the world. Unfortunately they left him out the Third Classic.
– Do not you agree?
-I disagree. You have to respect the stars. I have to praise Victor (Mesa, Cuba’s manager). He has done an amazing job, but I’ve been throwing balls for twenty-four years and Pestano is the catcher of my career.
-The team …
-At first base Kindelan, at second, Pacheco, shortstop, Germán Mesa, in third baseman Linares, the best ever. Not Alex Rodriguez, nor any other. Linares has nothing to do with anyone. Center fielder would be Victor Mesa, in the right field, Lourdes Gourriel, and on the left field (Luis Giraldo) Casanova.
-Pedro Luis Lazo. Lázaro Valle is very good, the Duke too, but Lazo is the number one. He is also my brother.
-Tell me about Lazo. How long have you known each other?
-Since we started at the Academy. They kicked him out the EIDE (Initiation Sports School) because his pitches were too slow, and later he became the fastest throwing pitcher in Cuba. We were roommates for twelve years. I used to say that slept more with Lazo than with my wife. We had days off on Mondays and Fridays, and the rest of the week we were together. He helped me a lot.
-After I left I did not want to talk to him. I did not want him to get into problems, but he sent me his phone number and told me I had to call him. He continued counseling me. Lazo watched the games and pointed up at me to raise my elbow, technical things, release the ball a little further down. And now, since I arrived, he went looking for me, to see me.
-Your Cuban team is Pinar del Rio. What about in the MLB?
-I played with four organizations. The Yankees, Chicago, I spent three months in Colorado and then Philadelphia. I prefer Chicago, not only because it has won the World Series. But because it was my city. That was my team, I got all the confidence and there I had my best results. Yes, definitely that’s my major league team.
-One could guess that winning the World Series, that moment brings a wealth of images and sensations. Did you have Cuba in your head?
-Every time I go to the mound I have Cuba in my heart. I play for my people; I train every day for that. The World Series has been, along the 1996 Olympics, the biggest thing in my career. Then I remember we were in the parade with fans of the White Sox and Ozzie asked me to speak. There were two million people. I did not know English, but people wanted me to speak. I sent greetings to Cuba, Pinar del Rio and then to Chicago.
– How is the relationship between Cubans in the Major Leagues? How are the inner mystics?
-What makes us different is just the team’s name. I can to pitch to Kendry (Morales) and he hits a homer out of me but then get together for dinner.
– What reasons led you to leave Cuba?
I never had problems, I was always treated well. I left because sporting ambition. I wanted to prove myself in the best baseball, make a career, try it. It has its price, of course. I left my family behind. My father died in 2004, I did the vigil by phone. I was ten years without coming to my house, but as I said, I wanted to prove myself.
– Did you think it a lot?
I thought it over a lot. It took me years.
– How long do you think you will remain active?
-As far as I can. This is all I can do. Pitching and sweet potato planting. When I cannot play anymore, I will come here to plant sweet potatoes.
– You went to the Captain San Luis Stadium?
-I didn’t, because Pinar was playing in Mayabeque. If there was a play off, I would have stayed to see them.
– Would you give interview to Cuban media oulet?
-To all who comes, I am hurt they didn’t show up. I love talking to the Cubans, yes, that’s me.
-At night, alone, what does Contreras you think of all this? Of Cuba, the United States, the distance, exile?
Right now I wake up and I stay like this and I say, "Wow, I’m back." I regret, indeed, not having tried this before. I came to the Majors at thirty-two. Had I come younger, who knows what I would have done. Moreover, I feel good about myself. I put a little of myself in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. I went to Olympics, Central American and Pan American Games and World Cups, and played two World Series. I am at ease.
– will there be a final return?
-You never know. I’m from here, this is my land. The Dominicans end a season and return home. They all do. But yes, I want to return. This is the house that the old man built for me, my house, the house of Contreras.
* In the photo: José Ariel Contreras and his wife during his visit to Cuba
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