Cape Cod Times | AMANDA COMAK
Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman threw a pitch in San Diego on Sept. 24 that was clocked at 105 miles per hour.
It was, in one incredibly fluid motion to the plate, the fastest pitch ever recorded in Major League Baseball. In just his 11th appearance with the Reds, Chapman bested his own record of 103.9 and emphatically continued to announce the flame-throwing Cuban’s presence as one of the most exciting rookie talents in the game.
Chapman, the leader of a group of highly touted defectors to sign splashy contracts recently, is just the latest in a long line of talented Cuban players making the risky escape from their Caribbean homeland to play in the big leagues.
The 22-year-old lefty signed a six-year, $30.25 million major league deal with Cincinnati in January and his meteoric ascension through the minor leagues – where he was clocked at 104 and 105 mph – has already brought him to the place he felt destined to reach: elite status among the game’s elite players.
But had the 6-foot-4, 185-pound hurler not snuck away from his Cuban National team during a tournament in the Netherlands in July 2009, he never would have made that once-unthinkable payday and he wouldn’t be the hot topic around baseball for the National League Central champion Reds.
Cuban defectors have been navigating the dangerous waters from Cuba to the major leagues for years. Rene Arocha was the first of the modern wave in 1991 and players such as Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Kendry Morales, Jose Contreras, Livan Hernandez and Rey Ordonez have all followed – leaving behind their home, their families and their country to play baseball in America.
At the start of this season, 17 Cuban-born players were either in the major leagues or listed as surefire minor league prospects on their way there. It’s a list that includes highly coveted Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias, who received a $6 million signing bonus in September 2009.
Chapman isn’t even the latest star to get a lucrative deal. That honor goes to Yunesky Maya, who inked a four-year, $6 million contract with the Washington Nationals in July. He made his major league debut less than six weeks later on Sept. 7.
“I would think (more will follow), especially when they start seeing the money that can be made over here,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told The Associated Press after his first few glimpses at Chapman.
“There are a lot of talented players. I think every club recognizes there are some quality players in Cuba.”
Everyone, including Tom Cronin, a Cape Cod native and real estate agent who owns American Heritage Realty in South Orleans. In fact, he realized it a long time ago.
The walls of Cronin’s real estate office are plastered…