Chapman set to feel, play at ease with family in tow
There is a growing trend toward seeing contemporary baseball players as collections of statistical tendencies.
These collections may be both useful and accurate as far as they can go. But they cannot tell the whole story, since they cannot measure the human value of the human beings who are attached to them.
When you see a story such as the one about Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman being reunited with his family, you are reminded that every statistical compilation known as a baseball player is still a human being with some of the same primary needs as the rest of the species.
It was even easier than normal to see Chapman as a collection of numbers, especially since one of his fastballs was measured at a record 105 mph. Even in an era of hard throwers, Chapman was exceptional, singular, a power arm of unique prowess.
This led to a series of other jaw-dropping, awe-inducing numbers. Over the last two seasons, in which Chapman had served as the Reds' full-time closer, he struck out 234 batters in 135 1/3 innings, while giving up just 72 hits, for a 3.25 strikeouts-to-hits ratio.
Chapman's WHIP was 0.81 in 2012 and 1.04 in '13. Opponents batted just .141 and .164 in those two seasons. The numbers roll on in equally impressive fashion. Chapman just turned 26 last week, but he was already putting up the stuff of which legends are made.
And yet, all this time, Chapman, as a defector from Cuba, was cut off from the rest of his family. He had left the island nation and had become, temporarily at least, an island onto himself. It had to be an extremely trying experience, one that could not be measured as easily as even a three-digit fastball.
In a story by Mark Sheldon, MLB.com's Reds beat writer, a story that was both incisive and human, the backdrop of Chapman's pitching story was fully revealed. Now, for the first time since coming to America, Chapman has been joined by his family, including his parents, the 4-year-old daughter he had never seen, and her mother.
This separation from family is not an atypical situation for Cuban players who defect from their original homeland to pursue a career in North America. But that doesn't make it any easier for the individuals involved.
Chapman, for most of us watching, was a pitcher of astounding power and potential. He was also a young fellow in a foreign land, with his family left behind in a dictatorship.
As good as Chapman was, recording 76 saves in 86 save opportunities over the last two seasons, there must have been times when the situation with his family cut into his focus. Chapman never made excuses when he blew a save, but the situation with his daughter in particular had to be difficult for him.
"We couldn't talk about it much last year, but it was something that was definitely weighing on his mind throughout the year," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said of Chapman's daughter. "He tried for a while to get her here. It's something where he's settled in, he's got his family settled and his full focus should be on baseball. He was pretty good before.
"He just seems more relaxed this spring, more at ease with everything. I think he's more natural. He's gotten more experience here, more comfortable with living in the country."
As for Chapman himself, his personal life has finally reached a point where happiness and contentment seem to be real possibilities.
"I could not ask for anything more to how my life is right now," Chapman told MLB.com through translator Tomas Vera. "I have all of the members of my family with me. That is all I need."
This does not automatically mean that Chapman will now be throwing 106 mph. But he will have his family with him in America. For a man who has worked at his profession while separated from his family, there may be no number that can adequately measure how much better the quality of Aroldis Chapman's life is now.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.