Impossible dream come true: Cubs pitcher Roenis Elías proud to play for Cuba in historic WBC
MESA, Ariz. — Growing up in Guantanamo, Cuba, Roenis Elías always dreamed of playing in a game with “CUBA” emblazoned across his chest.
The lefty pitcher, who is on a minor-league deal with the Cubs with an invite to big-league camp, had seen the island nation partake in the World Baseball Classic and knew he wanted to be in that event for his homeland.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the Clasico,” Elías said.
But that dream was seemingly dashed away from him when he defected from Cuba to try his hand at playing in the big leagues. Once Cubans defect, they’re essentially persona non grata back home. For baseball players, that’s especially true — Cuba has not allowed players who have defected to be on their national teams.
“It was null,” Elías said of his chances of playing for Cuba when he came stateside. “I knew how the political [environment] was. I never thought that MLB and the Cuban [Baseball] Federation would ever come to an agreement.”
Things seemingly changed in 2018, when MLB, the Players Association and the Cuban Baseball Federation [CBF] reached an agreement that allowed players from Cuba to sign with MLB clubs, like the agreements MLB has with Nippon Professional Baseball [Japan], Korean Baseball Organization and the Chinese Professional Baseball League. But the agreement was nixed in 2019 by the Trump administration.
“I never thought it would happen again,” Elías said.
But last fall, the CBF said they would invite major league players to be a part of their team in the WBC. Soon after that, the CBF commissioner, Juan Reynaldo Pérez Pardo, reached out to Elías — who was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic — via telephone.
“He told me that we want you to come help us on the team that’s going to the Clasico, if you’re willing and available,” Elías recalled.
Elías’ response was a resounding yes — who wouldn’t accept a dream come true? But he did want to get one thing straight.
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“I talked with them, but I didn’t want to talk politics,” Elías said. “I’m just going to play baseball. I’m doing my thing and they can do their job and I’ll do mine. That’s all we talked about.”
After the phone call, Elías turned to his parents, who were with him, and shared the exciting news. They all were over the moon and had a whiskey shot to celebrate the occasion.
“It was a cheerful moment,” Elías said. “My parents for sure [were happy], but I assume my uncles, especially. They’re huge beisboleros (baseball mad) – my whole family in Cuba is that way. Everyone is super happy, super cheerful for the first game of the tournament.”
Then, Elías wanted to share the moment with his Cuban teammates. Elías is in a group chat on WhatsApp with other Cuban big leaguers like the White Sox’ Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada.
“It was incredible,” Elías said. “Everyone was like, ‘What’s the uniform like? What color helmets do we have?”
Now, he’ll get ready to live out a dream — one that was seemingly beyond impossible just months ago.
“I’ve imagined it many times,” Elías said. “I’ve dreamed of when that moment would come, to be with the team, to be with the boys enjoying that moment and I’m super happy for that. It was always in my mind to do, but I never thought that it would happen so fast. Thanks to God it did.”