On the surface, Guillermo Heredia’s journey to the majors was not unlike that of the thousands of Latin American-born players who have come to the United States to play professional baseball. He left his home, his family, his country, in pursuit of better opportunities - more money, yes, but also the chance to compete at the highest level.
Heredia happened to be born in Cuba, though, so his journey became more complex. To leave Cuba, particularly as a professional baseball player, is to leave your friends and family for years, to leave your home country, in all likelihood, forever. Unlike José Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Céspedes, and other Cuban sluggers whose defections sparked feverish speculation in the American baseball community, Heredia wasn’t regarded as a big ticket player. His immigration to the states was the antithesis of his style of play, a slow and cumbersome process that involved defecting from Cuba in January of 2015 (he had a single plate appearance in Matanzas for the 2014-2015 season), establishing residency in Mexico in April of that year, moving to Miami at some point thereafter, and then finally signing a league minimum deal with the Mariners in February of 2016. By the time he reported to Arizona for Spring Training he hadn’t played professional baseball for two years.
The Heart & Hustle Award “honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and traditions of the game.” Back in 2005, when the Heart & Hustle Award first debuted, 28.7% of the players on 25-man rosters were Latino. Today, that percentage is nearly five points higher. Baseball is becoming more diverse, and as its demographics change, so does the game itself. There are still grumblings about “playing the game the right way,” but we’re beginning to see new traditions form, and starting to appreciate new spirit on the field.
Heredia is just the second Cuban-born player to win an organization’s Heart & Hustle Award (Yonder Alonso was technically the first, in 2017) and, though he is unlikely to be recognized as the final Award winner, his nomination is a powerful recognition of his journey and speaks to the changing atmosphere of MLB.
One of our most time-honored rules at Lookout Landing is “no politics.” The line that divides politics and sports coverage has grown increasingly murky, though perhaps it always was that way. I, and the rest of the staff, endeavor to hold true to this rule without sacrificing coverage of the Mariners organization. With that in mind, a growing number of the players we cover are immigrants. Immigration is certainly a political topic by most definitions, but I believe the stories and experiences of players like Heredia, Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz, and others deserve to be shared. It’s a difficult balance to find, but trust that we work diligently to respect site rules without compromising the quality of content.