Matanzas is located along the northern shore of Cuba, almost perfectly due east of Havana. It’s the capitol of the Matanzas region and a relatively quiet city, often overlooked by tourists and bisected by the San Juan and Yumurí Rivers which feed into the Bahía de Matanzas. In Spanish “matanzas” means “killings,” and this unexpected name is derived from the murder of shipwreck survivors by an indigenous tribe in 1510. On January 31, 1991 Guillermo Heredia was born there, and a year later in 1992 the Cocodrilos de Matanzas were founded as the newest team in the Cuban National Series.
Heredia was loyal to his hometown and began and ended his Cuban baseball career as a center fielder for the Cocodrilos, was a Gold Glove winner in 2012, and represented his country in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, alongside José Abreu, Yasmany Tomás, and Yulieski Gurriel. In 2014 he singled in his first plate appearance in Matanzas’ Opening Day game, and then was promptly pulled. It was later confirmed that the league had suspended him for four years, likely due to rumors of an unsuccessful defection attempt earlier that year. That was his final game in Cuba, and the last time he played in organized baseball until March of 2016.
Unlike Leonys Martin’s harrowing hostage experience, or José Fernández’s dramatic fishing boat odyssey, we know next to nothing about Heredia’s defection. What we do know is that some time in early 2015 Heredia defected from Cuba, established residency in Mexico, and then immigrated to Miami, Florida. In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Heredia explained that he had always been family-oriented and likened his decision to defect to a great strain on himself and his family.
Heredia trained and worked out in Miami for the duration of 2015, paying particular attention to his batting and, specifically, “batear con cualidad,” or “batting with quality.” The transition was not easy, with the changes in climate, culture, and language, but Heredia was optimistic and noted that it was lucky that “baseball is a universal language, and many understand it.”
Once the eleventh-ranked prospect in Cuba, he garnered interest early on from a number of other ball clubs for his speed and defense, but many team officials were concerned with his offensive abilities. That year the winter meetings were held in Boca Raton and, in the midst of making dozens of trades, Jerry Dipoto, VP of Scouting Tom Allison, and Director of International Scouting Tim Kisser, drove to Miami to watch Heredia work out. They liked what they saw, but were concerned about the relatively high contract Heredia’s representation was seeking.
The Seattle Mariners officially announced that they had signed Guillermo Heredia on March 1, 2016 to a league minimum contract and a $500,000 bonus. After the signing Heredia expressed his enthusiasm for this new step in his journey by saying, “...I can not complain, I have a good arm, a solid defense and I hope all that helps me achieve my dreams.” Less than two weeks after the announcement Heredia was sent down to begin the season in double-A Jackson, in an attempt to help him continue to acclimate to the new culture. It had been two years since he had played professional baseball.
Heredia performed well in both double-A and triple-A, and was called up at the end of July, 2016. He plays with a passion that is anthemic to his journey, and his enthusiasm and devotion to baseball is writ large in ever game he plays. Nowhere was that more obvious than in his reaction to his first MLB hit, and RBI single that set the stage for a late-inning Mariners comeback.
Just because. pic.twitter.com/7x6HlrLPh3— Mariners (@Mariners) May 4, 2017
We’re less than two months into the 2017 season, but already Heredia has filled his proverbial baseball resume with numerous highlight reel catches. This catch robbed Andrelton Simmons of a home run, and mimicked a catch he made a few weeks prior when he robbed Marcel Ozuna of a home run. Up until last night this play was his top highlight of the season but, after a mere two weeks, it appears to have been usurped.
Two outs, bottom of the ninth, man on second—and Guillermo Heredia lets the dogs out.#GoMariners pic.twitter.com/fvEIFjRr2l— Mariners (@Mariners) May 19, 2017
— Mariners (@Mariners) May 19, 2017
What a win. #GoMariners pic.twitter.com/TJqG5xk47j
On May 18, 2017 Guillermo Heredia hit a walk-off single over the outstretched glove of Yolmer Sánchez, and the Seattle Mariners triumphed over the Chicago White Sox 5-4. Look at his face, in that second tweet. The way he beams as Jean Segura, the first to reach him, grabs him in a hug and pulls the helmet from his head. His smile is wide, and utterly uninhibited, as his teammates mob him on the field; everyone yelling, and grinning, and leaping about in a way that would make us chuckle at the ridiculous antics of these grown men, except that we’re too busy yelling, and grinning, and leaping about, too. Heredia has been excellent so far this season, with game-tying home runs and game-saving catches, but this celebratory moment after The Moment is what makes him so great. As he jumps up and down, surrounded by his teammates, he is utterly unabashed in his love for the game and, after a long journey to the majors, it’s joyous to watch him triumph. His is the best kind of baseball story.