Cuban trio competes for Home Run Derby glory

July 10th, 2023

SEATTLE -- Approximately eight years ago, signed up for a Home Run Derby in Cuba. It was the first time García was going to participate in that event and he didn’t know quite what to expect.

During García's round, recalls that García wasn’t hitting any home runs. In the end, García finished with no homers and in last place. Naturally, Robert, who was just watching as a teammate, couldn’t stop laughing and making fun of García for his shoddy Derby performance.

That laughter stopped immediately a year later when Robert decided to participate in the following Home Run Derby. Like García, Robert struggled to hit any home runs in the competition. Once he finished, García was ready for some revenge.

“See?” García told Robert. “That’s so you can stop laughing now.”

Almost a decade later, Robert and García expect to have a much better showing in the 2023 Home Run Derby at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. They’ll have each other to lean on during the event. They’ll also share the stage with , another Cuban-born player they’ve shared plenty of baseball experiences with in the past.

Robert comes into the event as the No. 1 seed with 26 homers this season. García and Arozarena will battle it out in the first round. The winner of that contest could then match up against Robert in the semifinals.

“I’m really happy and thankful to live out this experience with two other Cuban players,” Robert said in Spanish. “I played with them in Cuba, and to be here with them again, I think it’s going to be a really good experience.”

While all are different ages, Arozarena, Robert and García have all been connected for quite some time. Arozarena and Robert have known each other for years. They both represented Cuba in international tournaments as kids. Robert and García played together in the Cuban National Series with Ciego de Avila.

“We formed a great friendship while playing in Cuba,” García said. “We’ve been friends ever since.”

Arozarena and García have also known each other since their time in Cuba, but their relationship didn’t blossom until they both got to the United States. The two Cuban stars were in the Cardinals’ farm system together. Arozarena was García’s first roommate in the Minors.

Since then, García and Arozarena have developed a brotherhood. In fact, García is the godfather of Arozarena’s daughter. The two chat every single day. They usually talk about life and a little bit of baseball. But after the Derby pairings were announced, there’s been some trash talk involved.

“We’re really proud of ourselves to be able to join a Derby together,” Arozarena said. “He wants to beat me, and I want to beat him.”

Initially, Robert said he wasn’t interested in participating in this year’s Derby. But his interest spiked once he saw Arozarena get announced as one of the first participants. A few days later, García told Robert he was also going to participate and beat Arozarena. Once those two committed, they began to text Robert.

“When they told me they were participating, I got a little inspired to make the decision to participate in the event as well,” Robert said. “It’s going to be special. They have to battle it out in the first round, but hopefully they have to play against me in the second round.”

Outside of the friendly trash talk, the trio realizes how special the night will be. It’s something they never dreamt of when they were teenagers in Cuba. Now, they’re each focused on becoming the second Cuban-born player to win the Home Run Derby, joining Yoenis Cespedes, who won it in back-to-back years in 2013 and '14.

“It’s great for us to have three Cubans here in the Derby and increase the chances of a Cuban winning this competition,” Arozarena said. “But we just tell each other that we deserve this moment.”