By Fernando Suarez
I come from the Cuban province of Matanzas, and grew up in a small town called Boca de Camarioca, 10 km away from Varadero. I started to play baseball when I was seven years old and it wasn’t until I was 11 years old when I started to show some skills.
For reasons that I don’t want to go into, I stopped playing baseball when I was 15 and it wasn’t until I finished military service when I was 20 that I really started playing again.
I played the last half of the Matanzas provincial games and I did pretty well. I had to catch in the finals of the tourna- ment for Yadiel Alvarez, who currently is on the 40-man roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The skills that I showed behind the plate were enough to convince one of the scouts to let me be part of the 23 U preselection.
That’s when I first met the big obstacle that would eventually ruin the next year of my career, elbow pain. I asked the manager of the team to cut me be- cause the soreness in my elbow was so bad that it made me cry, and obviously, my performance was highly affected by it. Regardless, they still contacted me and let me be part of the senior provincial team (Cocodrilos de Matanzas) team.
It was a great year, I learned most of what I know now from Victor Mesa, who at that point was also the manager of the Cuban national team. Even though there were so many people that have supported me throughout my career, I believe that Mesa was the person who has influenced me the most in my baseball career. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have ended up playing baseball at all.
The pain in my arm continued for the next two years, affecting my performance. It destroyed me mentally. Three years later, I came to Canada in February 2018. My wife and my father- in- law noticed how frustrated I was because despite having all the conditions to be a good player, I could not make it onto a team. They decided to give me the opportunity to go back to school and tryout instead of letting me live with the “what if”.
To make the story short, I contacted Sam Dempster at Durham College through a co worker, Jonathan McIntosh, who was also part of the team. I told him that I would start studying in Durham College in September. They saw me take a few swings and that was enough to impress the coaches.
Honestly, I thought that was one of my worst batting practices ever, but that shows what a great eye Sam Dempster has. He predicted that I was going to hit quite a few doubles. He showed me the wall with the awards won by former DC baseball players, and he told me, “your name is going to be there too.”
How I feel after winning the 2019 OCAA batting title? It’s the result of so much perseverance and the support from people around me. Starting with my family, especially my wife, all the way to the coaches, such as Tim Harkness Jr., Scott Cawker and Sam Dempster. Even though I can’t deny it’s a good feeling winning this award, I don’t want to get attached to it because I still have a lot of deficiencies in my game, and I need to keep the hard work going in the offseason.
I enjoy playing baseball so much. Winning and losing or my person- al results is not what determines how much I enjoy it. This mentality is what kept my mind clear of any pressure during this championship. I enjoyed winning, because it was satisfying for me to see how happy my teammates were, especially Sam Dempster, who retired as what he has always been: a champion.