All quotes used in this story are from Eli Saslow’s piece in the most recent edition of the ESPN: The Magazine. This was his reporting, but for sake of the story, I will reference back to quotes used by Chapman.
There is no question who the most exhilarating player in the Reds locker room is.
Every single time he takes the hill; there are no bathroom breaks, no concession stands runs, and you’re certainly not going to leave early to beat traffic, and that’s because you want to see the man who has thrown the fastest pitch on record in Major League history: Aroldis Chapman.
When he became a member of the Reds before the 2010 season, it shook the baseball world to it’s core. Chapman bucked the trend of signing in big cities such as New York and Boston; or Spanish-speaking communities of Los Angeles and Miami. It’s certainly still within the realm of possibility that Aroldis finds his way there before his career is done, but upon arriving in America, he chose Cincinnati, of all places.
Let me preface this by saying that this is in no way an indictment of Aroldis Chapman. He is of immeasurable value to this franchise that has harkened towards him due to his Herculean ability to heave a fastball quicker than any mortal ever has before. Outside of speeding infractions (and who doesn’t speed?), he has been a model citizen, and caused not a smidgen of a bad image to be cast down upon the Reds franchise. Somehow, though, this does not seem to be the right fit.
When asked by his mother why he slept so late, Chapman responded, “there’s nothing else to do.”
Of course, every person that inhabits this earth has things that motive and drive them to perform in a certain manner. For many of us, the American lifestyle becomes second nature because it is all that we have ever known. Chapman is a man living in what is to him, a bizarre country; with none of the same friends he has known his entire life.
“I get bored of watching baseball on TV.” “I don’t know who I can trust and who is using me for who I am.” These are confessions of a man who is having a difficult time adapting to American culture. Chapman yearned ever so badly for his old Cuban ways, that after a save against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012, he tumbled off the hill into a double front roll, a savage act by baseball purists.
Initially, the plan by the Reds brass was to make Chapman a ‘Randy Johnson’-like starter once he was accustomed to the states and had his arm stretched out to a reasonable range. The 2010 season came out of nowhere, and Chapman was used as a late inning weapon. He had gotten his first taste of coming in where the situation deemed nothing but triple digit fastballs and the crowd rising to their feet on every pitch. That very same thrill is the probable cause behind Chapman’s new aversion to the starting rotation.
The Cuban Missile will likely be seeking a new contract at the conclusion of this season. He has rewritten the record books as far as strikeouts per nine innings go, and will unquestionably want the big bucks that fellow closers Jonathan Papelbon and even more recently, Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour, have drawn. Chapman does indeed have a player option for 2015, but the likelihood of him picking it up seems wishful at best.
At the same time, the possibility of trading Chapman is incredibly slim. This is not because teams have questions surrounding his character, or even his abilities, but rather than this is not some fantasy baseball team. Star players are very rarely swapped for other star players. The Reds are not going to “get what they can” for Chapman; they would rather try to attempt to win with him in 2014 and worry about the consequences later.
Would Chapman wake up one day as a member of a different organization and magically be happy with his life? He talks about missing boxing, playing first base and the simplistic lifestyle that his native country Cuba created.
What we do know, is that it does not seem that Aroldis Chapman is happy as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Not in the sense that he is angry about his role, or the way he is treated as a member of the organization, but the fact that he spends virtually no time in the city and is uncomfortable with the language and lifestyle that we are all so accustomed to.
In hindsight, the signing of Aroldis Chapman is a slam-dunk idea that every organization in baseball wishes that they made. In reality, international prospects are always risky. The Reds, a small market club mind you, invested nearly $30 million in the left arm of a kid who was just on the precipice of turning 20.
Many will say that Chapman “owes” the Reds his loyalty, which could not be further from the truth. The days where players spend their whole careers and adult lives in one city are over (unless you’re Joey Votto). Chapman may never find complete happiness, no matter if he plays in Minnesota, Milwaukee or even Miami.
The only certain thing is the fact that Aroldis Chapman will electrify us to the point of goose bumps in 2014. He will continue to whiff batters at a historic rate, and he will cement the fact that he is quite possibly the most dominant international export of all-time.