SEATTLE (AP) -- Suddenly thrust into a glitzy life as a budding local celebrity, it would be easy for someone to forget about his humble roots.
Yuniesky Betancourt is no exception.
The 23 year old Mariner shortstop, who fled his native Cuba and spent a year in Mexico before turning up in the United States, says he has "pretty much no recollection whatsoever" of his hometown of Santa Clara.
"I remember there were houses. And cars. And I guess some people, too," Betancourt says over a cup of Kopi Luwak. "But that could be any place."
Although the young infielder spent the first 21 years of his life in Cuba, he figured out pretty early that it just wasn't the right place for him to be. "The poverty, the smell, the socialism - I didn't belong there. I needed to be somewhere else, somewhere where I could be in the spotlight and get the kind of money I deserve." And so it was that, on his 12th birthday, Betancourt began formulating a plan that would eventually get him off his native island.
"I knew from the beginning that I had the talent to play legitimate baseball in a real league. I just had to hope that someone - anyone - would take notice and fly me out of that hellhole. I know the Yankees pay close attention to Cuban baseball, but honestly, at that point I didn't care if it was Chuck Lafriggin'Mar coming to the rescue. I just wanted out."
When Plan A didn't pan out, it became clear to Betancourt that, if he wanted to ply his trade elsewhere, he'd have to take matters into his own hands. So, relying on what he calls "a pretty crappy Cuban education" for guidance, he settled on the idea of floating to Mexico on a raft.
"Ever floated 150 miles on a piece of cardboard?" Betancourt asks. "God damn, that took forever."
Now that he's established himself as a quality Major League shortstop just two years after leaving Cuba, Betancourt is anxious to put that all behind him. He says that he's taken to American culture and living, making the quick adjustment that few thought possible when he arrived in the country not knowing a word of English. Already, he owns three trucks, a DVD collection numbering in the hundreds, and a two-story house along the coastline. And if everything goes smoothly, declares Betancourt, he'll soon be the proud owner of a winter home in La Jolla.
"I love living in this land of opportunity," he mentions, eyes fixed on the Saleen S7 that's just passing by the cafe. "Everyone here is so warm, so cheerful. It's nothing like Mexico or Cuba, where people literally pull you aside and beg for a dime or a piece of bread. It's a real downer."
Asked whether he thinks he's being selfish with his newfound wealth, Betancourt takes his eyes away from the window for the first time since we sat down.
"My ability and my hard work got me this money. If other people are jealous, maybe they should try finding something they're good at, instead of complaining all the time."
Betancourt sips his drink, and his gaze returns to the street outside.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a happier man.
This is a work of satire. None of the quotations are real, and Yuniesky Betancourt and I have never sat down and chatted over cups of Kopi Luwak.