GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For most of the nearly five years he has spent in the United States as a Cuban defector and Reds pitcher, the personal and baseball worlds of Aroldis Chapman have rarely orbited around him in harmony.
This could be the year that everything aligns just right and Chapman has peace at home to go with the success he's had on the mound. Last year, his family first started getting back together as his parents successfully left Cuba and reached the U.S.
The rest of the puzzle fell into place this offseason. The 4-year-old daughter Chapman had never met, Ashanti, and her mother, Raildelmi, also gained freedom from the Marxist country.
"I could not ask for anything more to how my life is right now," Chapman told MLB.com via translator Tomas Vera. "I have all of the members of my family with me. That is all I need."
Ashanti was born a few months after Chapman defected during a tournament in Rotterdam in July 2009. Although he and her mother are no longer a couple, he fully supports them and the family is together at his home in South Florida.
The details of how Chapman was able to get any of his family members out of the country, for now, remain confidential for security reasons.
Chapman, who turned 26 on Feb. 28, missed the chance to see his daughter born and several of the early milestones. Even though the forced separation was over, Chapman also realized that a first-time reunion would not automatically create an instant family bond. There were fears and doubts, too.
"It was really emotional," Chapman said. "At the same time, it was mixed feelings. I was kind of worried. I didn't know how she was going to react. She had never met me before. I had never met her before. She didn't know who I was. I mean, we've had pictures and I've seen and talked to her on the phone, but nothing really personal. I was questioning myself on what was going to happen? How is she going to react? What is she going to say? We are still learning each other."
Of course, Ashanti is still too young to appreciate that her father is one of Major League Baseball's most electric pitchers who has thrown a record 105 mph fastball. She doesn't know he is a two-time National League All-Star who has achieved fame and success from his left arm and wealth from the $30 million contract he signed with the Reds in January 2010.
Chapman would like for Ashanti to take in some games and watch her father lock down a win as the Reds' closer this season. But he is also hoping she will eventually see and grasp the bigger picture -- the most important part.
"Of course, I'm going to be happy that she can see me this year pitching," Chapman said. "I know time will go fast and she will start to understand what I do. I want her to start seeing what I'm doing and why I am here.
"I know through the years, there will be a time that she is going to realize why her dad left. She is also going to also understand why I was here in this country and why I came to this country. She will understand that all of these years that she missed me, that I was doing this for her. She will understand why I was away from home."
There have been times during Chapman's big league career where he suddenly wasn't dominant and possibly had his mind elsewhere. Of his five blown saves last season, two came in back-to-back games on May 16 and 19. One of those games crashed and burned in Philadelphia on back-to-back homers allowed for a walk-off loss.
| "It was really emotional. At the same time, it was mixed feelings. I was kind of worried. I didn't know how she was going to react. She had never met me before. I had never met her before. She didn't know who I was. I mean, we've had pictures and I've seen and talked to her on the phone, but nothing really personal. I was questioning myself on what was going to happen? How is she going to react? What is she going to say? We are still learning each other." |
|-- Chapman, on meeting daughter |
Chapman never made excuses for the bad games, nor let the world outside of the Reds know what was happening off of the field. So there was little way to know if he was distracted, if his stuff was lacking, or if the other team's hitters simply were just better than him on that day.
The expectation is that a happy family life can eliminate one of those questions from Chapman's pitching.
"We couldn't talk about it much last year, but it was something that was definitely weighing on his mind throughout the year," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said of Chapman's daughter. "He tried for a while to get her here. It's something where he's settled in, he's got his family settled and his full focus should be on baseball. He was pretty good before.
"He just seems more relaxed this spring, more at ease with everything. I think he's more natural. He's gotten more experience here, more comfortable with living in the country."
Some new questions suddenly sprouted last month when an article published by ESPN the Magazine questioned Chapman's conditioning efforts in the offseason. He was portrayed as lazy and disinterested in baseball.
The story became easy fodder for bashing Chapman on talk radio, in columns and on social media. The interviews at his home were done in November when had yet to begin his usual offseason throwing program. It was supposed to be the downtime players earn after a season.
"The article had a lot of wrong things," Chapman said. "They came in and said I didn't like baseball. They came and said I don't practice and I don't work out and all I want to do is be a boxer. I don't know why they did what they did. I am surprised at why they did that. You know what? I didn't put too much into the article. … I can tell you all I have to do is keep working and show everybody they were absolutely wrong."
Chapman arrived at Spring Training looking fit and as muscular as usual. He made his spring debut on his birthday Friday and struck out all three batters he faced, showing both the hard triple-digit fastball and a few offspeed pitches.
"I've been working and I've been preparing myself well," Chapman said. "I've showed it during my first outing. It was a good outing. I had no problems. Everything went how I wanted. I will keep working."
The Reds maintained their offseason protocol of monitoring the offseason conditioning of all their players -- including Chapman.
"We have a visual inspection on a lot of them and we had a pretty good visual on Chapman," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We knew he would be ready when he got here -- regardless of what was suggested otherwise."
Chapman pitched two innings Monday and notched two strikeouts in the fourth inning. In the fifth, he gave up three hits, including a RBI double with two outs.
His translator since Chapman joined the Reds' Triple-A Louisville club in 2010, Vera has watched the pitcher mature from close proximity. Vera firmly defends that there has been no lack of drive from Chapman.
"If you see him from 2010 and his first Spring Training to 2014, his commitment is amazing and is willingness to help get better," said Vera, who is also a Reds assistant trainer. "He's thinking about this every day. The difference in him is from night to day. He thinks about being the best. He wants to be the best."
Last season, Chapman posted a 2.54 ERA in 68 games with 38 saves in 43 chances, 29 walks and 112 strikeouts. He was also 38 for 43 in saves in 2012. To remain an elite closer for a contender like Cincinnati, he doesn't believe he has to change very much on the field.
"I'm going to have the year I want," Chapman said. "I want to continue preparing myself to continue to get what I want."
With Ashanti, her mother and his parents safe in America, Chapman can already say he finally has everything he wants -- and needs -- away from the field. If he gets what he wants from the mound like he already has the past four seasons, it would indeed be harmony personified.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.