A fantastic read into the life of Chapman.
A world of his own
Aroldis Chapman lives the American dream, but pines for the life he left in Cuba
IT IS WELL past noon in the mansion they call the American Dream House, and the owner has yet to wake up. Half a dozen friends and relatives sit under an imported Italian chandelier in the living room, watching the hours pass on a silver-plated clock, waiting for Aroldis Chapman to come downstairs. House rules dictate that nobody disturbs him; it is Chapman's $30 million contract that paid for this house, and it is his singular left arm that brought his family from a coastal province in Cuba to the manicured suburbs of Florida's gold coast, where nothing is quite as they expected.
Every new immigrant in this household has developed an antidote to boredom, and for Aroldis, it is sleep. Midday gives way to early afternoon. Early afternoon turns toward dusk. His parents move outside to sit by the swimming pool, where they study the ornate drapes of his second-story bedroom for any sign of movement. Some days during the offseason, the Reds' 25-year-old closer stays in his room until sunset, sleeping, watching movies or just throwing a racquetball against his bedroom wall.
Finally, a few minutes before 4 p.m., the curtains lift and Chapman descends the spiral staircase to the pool deck. He wears sandals, sunglasses and a tank top obscured by heavy gold chains. He lights a Marlboro Red cigarette and flops down onto an all-weather mattress near the pool.
"Why so late like this?" Maria Caridad asks. "Why all this sleeping?"
"There's nothing else to do," he says.
Sometimes Chapman walks through the quiet halls of his five-bedroom, six-bath mansion and finds himself missing the humble three-room house, with its leaky ceiling and cracked walls, where he grew up -- missing the living room crowded with relatives, the friends, noise, gossip, chaos and uncertainty. "There is my life in Cuba and my life in America, the old life and the new life, and almost nothing about them is the same," he says.
Even his relationship with baseball, the game that brought him here, has begun to change since he abandoned his Cuban national team at a tournament in the Netherlands, walking out of his hotel with nothing but a passport and a pack of cigarettes to begin his slow escape to the United States. "I get bored of watching baseball on TV," he says. "It's repetitive to me." So instead of practicing his pitching during the offseason, he spends time in the batting cages at a nearby school. The man who threw the fastest recorded pitch in major league history -- clocked at 105 mph in a 2010 game -- now imagines what it would be like to play first base.
"Life here is easy," he says. "This is fat living, and that's nice. But sometimes I miss the craziness. That's the problem I'm trying to solve."
HE HAS DECIDED part of the solution is rooted not in his new life but in his old one; not in baseball but boxing.
A few years ago, Chapman and fellow Cuban pitcher Livan Hernandez began reconnecting with boxers from their homeland, offering to sponsor them once they reached the U.S. Chapman says his motivation was simple: Here was a chance to retrace his own journey, to support fellow Cuban athletes still trying to earn their way. Maybe he could vicariously experience some of the scrappiness and uncertainty that defined his life before his defection
He had watched only a few major league games on TV when he arrived in the U.S., and he could name no more than a handful of players. He signed a long-term contract with the Reds, a team he knew nothing about, with teammates whose names he couldn't pronounce, in a city he couldn't place on a map. He rented a Cincinnati mansion from a former Reds pitcher because at least the Cuban flag near the entrance reminded him of home. He bought Rosetta Stone tapes to help him learn English but made little progress, so a minor league assistant coach taught him how to order food at restaurants. Chapman -- whose only mode of transportation in Cuba had been a friend's broken-down bike -- bought a Lamborghini with $40,000 of custom work. His new teammates chuckled while watching him spend 15 minutes trying to maneuver the car into a parking space at the stadium.
After a lifetime in communist Cuba, he behaved with a freedom that felt to him entirely American and with the flashiness to which he believed American stars were entitled. Hire a personal bodyguard? Absolutely. Pose for pictures with a lingerie-wearing waitress? Sure. Arrange for a stripper to meet him at hotel rooms on the road? Why not?
While the case is pending in U.S. District Court, Chapman -- who has denied through his lawyer that he did anything improper -- stays home and sleeps. "I don't know who I can trust and who is using me for who I am," he says. Out of an abundance of caution, he has decided to trust nobody. Teammates regard him as cordial but distant. "Sometimes, when he's not here mentally, you don't know where he is," then-Reds manager Dusty Baker said in 2011.
"It's so much success happening so fast," he says. "You spend your whole life trying to make it, and then you wake up with everything. It's confusing."
Chapman has a small circle of confidants, including his parents, who arrived in January 2013. His daughter, Ashanti Brianna, now 4, and her mother, Raidelmis Mendosa Santiestelas, finally joined him in the U.S. in January. He won't talk about the details of how they left Cuba, but he clearly values their presence. "I'm either by myself or with them," he says, "because they understand life before and life now."
When their company isn't enough to bridge the divide, Chapman goes alone to the top floor of his house in Davie, walking past the plastic pears in the kitchen and the hollow books in the library. He goes into his gym and puts on a pair of boxing gloves. Then he steps up to the punching bag and hits something solid.
Chapman rarely offers any of his boxers advice -- "They are professionals," he says -- and he rarely talks to them about his own career. Instead, he shares details about his early life in Cuba: the steel bars that guarded the windows of his childhood bedroom from the neighborhood gang violence, or the way he learned to pitch by throwing a rock wrapped inside a sock.
Chapman had to leave for Cincinnati to attend a mandatory fan appreciation day, where he would serve as a public ambassador for a city he hardly knows. That was the irony of the immigrant life at the highest ends of American baseball: He still felt like a foreigner, but thousands of fans had committed the details of his life to memory and purchased an imitation version of his jersey. Chapman's autograph line in Cincinnati would be staffed by a translator. He would visit hospitals and hug sick strangers. "My day job," he says.