top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A Cuban slugger’s family is making up for lost time

When Houston’s Yordan Alvarez doubled in a run in the first inning of Game 2 of the World Series on Saturday, no one in Minute Maid Park was happier than Alvarez’s father, Agustín.

By James Wagner

A half-hour before Game 2 of the World Series began Saturday night, Yordan Alvarez’s special guests weaved through the crowded concourse at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Alvarez, a designated hitter and outfielder for the Houston Astros, was in the clubhouse getting ready to play while his parents and younger brother settled into their usual seats in Section 122.

Within minutes, Alvarez’s father, Agustín, 52, had been spotted by fans.

“Tonight is the night: He’s going to homer,” a man said to Agustín Alvarez, who high-fived him after the message was interpreted into Spanish. Moments later, another fan approached him. “I’m Cuban, too,” she said in Spanish, before asking for a selfie.

Then Charlie González, an Astros scout who helped persuade the team’s front office to acquire Yordan from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, swung by and shook Agustín’s hand. “It’s a pleasure,” they said to each other in Spanish.

The entire time, Agustín Alvarez beamed with pride.

Even though he has been coming to Minute Maid Park for two months now to see his son play, the thrill hasn’t worn off. From 2016, when Yordan signed with the Dodgers after leaving his native Cuba, until August, Agustín and his wife, Mailyn Cadogan Reyes, did not see their son play a professional game in person. In those six years, they barely watched him play live on television, either.

Yordan left home at age 17, without any command of English, to pursue his baseball dreams. His journey took him from Cuba to the Dominican Republic to Haiti. He came to the United States, first to join the Dodgers. Then he was traded to the Astros.

Along the way, he went from a skinny but tall prospect who did not hit for much power to growing and changing his swing, which helped him become the 2019 American League rookie of the year. He developed into one of the best hitters in baseball and earned a six-year, $115 million contract extension. But his parents watched all of that unfold from afar.

“It does affect you,” Yordan Alvarez, 25, said in Spanish. “It was really hard. Imagine that many years away from your family, especially your parents. You’re starting a life basically without them.”

Yordan saw his parents briefly over the years, sneaking trips in the offseason to Cuba or meeting them in the Dominican Republic. But he couldn’t have them around every day or have them sit in the stands to see him play.

Until now, after years of praying and nearly two years of working with an immigration lawyer. Yordan said Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, asked Carlos Rosas, a Houston immigration lawyer, to help. Agustín Alvarez said he, his wife and their 15-year-old son, Yonder, returned last year to the Dominican Republic, where they waited until they secured the visitor visas needed to enter the United States through Mexico.

“We felt bad that we couldn’t see him,” Cadogan, 48, said in Spanish. “But I always had faith that I could be here and see him play in the big leagues. I never lost faith. And thank God we’re here.”

In mid-August, Agustín said Rosas took them by car through the border crossing in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to Houston. The Astros were on the road, but when Yordan returned home, they reunited with lots of hugs, kisses and tears.

“We were up late,” Agustín said, “and every so often, we’d hug again.”

Then, finally, on Aug. 23, Yordan’s parents and brother got to see him play. Yordan admitted that he scanned the stands looking for their faces before his first at-bat and that he felt more nervous than ever.

He grounded out, but he singled in his second at-bat in a 4-2 win against the Minnesota Twins. Agustín said the family’s presence was announced at the stadium, and fans soon began stopping by to say hello or snap photos. It also helped that the 6-foot-4 Agustín, who played baseball in Cuba, and the 6-5 Yordan closely resemble each other: tall, larger upper bodies, skinnier legs.

“Look, he got that from me,” Agustín said, laughing, as he rolled up his jeans to his calves.

During that first game, Cadogan cried. Then she said she began feeling pulsing near her eyes. She soon felt worse, and a headache emerged. She knew it was her blood pressure flaring up. After the game, she went to the emergency room, where she remained until 3 a.m.

“It was because of the emotions of being at the stadium, seeing people cheer for my son,” she said. “It was a lot of emotions.”

Yordan said he did not immediately know what happened because he was being interviewed in the Astros’ clubhouse after the game. Then he looked at his phone and saw several missed calls from his wife, Monica.

“It’s totally different for them,” he said. “Imagine leaving Cuba and coming to the United States and coming to a major league game.”

Game 2 of the World Series, between the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night, had an announced attendance of 42,926. Between the crowds and the stadium sizes, and the fanfare and the cheering for their son, Yordan’s parents were initially overwhelmed watching him.

“It’s marvelous and astonishing,” Cadogan said. She said she felt “a huge amount of pride” seeing so many people wearing her son’s No. 44 jersey. She continued: “I didn’t expect this, but now I’m living this. And a lot of people have come up to us to congratulate us.”

While they were away, Yordan talked to his parents daily by phone. Agustín said his son often reassured him he was doing OK, but he could tell their absence would at times weigh on him. He noticed it most when he tried to encourage his son during a slump at the plate, and Yordan said he missed them.

Watching his son play while he was still in Cuba could be tricky. During the 2019 World Series, in which Houston lost to the Washington Nationals, Agustín said a friend drove him over an hour away to a hotel that had the television broadcast. From the Dominican Republic last fall, he said he watched his son play in the 2021 World Series, in which the Astros lost to the Atlanta Braves.

“We suffered,” Agustín said. “We enjoyed knowing about him and hearing from him through the years and how he was doing. But it’s one of the biggest struggles we’ve had, not being able to see him.”

The opposite has been true for Yordan since his family members arrived in the United States. Before his family’s visas were approved, he said, he checked in with the immigration lawyer “every day for like eight months.”

“I knew I had to have faith and not feel desperate,” Yordan said. “I knew that one day the time would come.”

Yordan’s teammates said they saw a change in his mood after his parents’ arrival.

“It’s an atypical situation,” said utility player Aledmys Díaz, who defected from Cuba in 2012. “All of the other Latinos have the chance to go back to their country after the season, and for us it’s a bit harder.”

The perks of having his parents around now: Yordan’s father can offer more frequent baseball tips and his mother prepared Yordan’s favorite meal the first week she was in Houston — carne con papas (Cuban-style stewed beef with potatoes). “I don’t know what seasoning she puts in there, but it’s so yummy,” he said.

During Yordan’s games, Agustín reacts to every pitch of his son’s at-bats. In the first inning Saturday, he flinched when Yordan, the designated hitter, fouled off a 97 mph fastball from Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler, knowing his son’s swing was a bit behind. He high-fived Yordan’s agents and nearby fans when Yordan crushed the next pitch, a 93 mph slider, off the left field scoreboard for a run-scoring double. Yordan later tagged up and advanced to third base on a flyout, and scored on a Phillies throwing error.

“I like how he ran there,” he said. “I’ll tell him after the game.”

Later, Yordan said: “He notices a lot. I have to have an answer ready when he sees me after because no detail escapes him, especially about me.”

Because of a recent operation, Agustín didn’t travel to Seattle or New York to see the Astros’ road playoff games. He did see his son hit one of the greatest home runs in postseason history, a game-ending, three-run blast in an 8-7 win over the Seattle Mariners in Game 1 of their AL Division Series. Now that the World Series, which is tied at a game apiece, shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Monday, Agustín will be at Citizens Bank Park.

The goal, Yordan said, is for his family to be around for many more games and remain in the United States for good. The next step would be for them to apply for residency.

Agustín said they wanted to join Yordan, his wife and their two children in Tampa, Florida, where they live in the offseason. There, he said, they hope Yonder can go to school and learn English. Agustín, who was taught Russian in Cuba and managed restaurants for 15 years, said he would love to find a job again one day.

“It’s not out of need, but I’d feel better,” he said.

During the later innings of Saturday’s game, Cadogan watched quietly as she sat next to Yordan’s wife, who was born in Cuba but came to the United States at age 5 and has helped Yordan adapt and learn some English. In the ninth inning, Agustín watched intently. He pumped his fist after a strikeout and leaned into the aisle to get a better view around the people standing in front of him.

After the final out of the Astros’ 5-2 victory, Agustín shook hands and high-fived those around him. Cadogan recorded the celebratory fireworks on a cellphone.

As fans streamed up the stairs, more of them recognized Agustín. One offered a fist bump. Another stopped to ask in English for a selfie, which Agustín obliged. Later, he admitted he hadn’t understood much of what was said. He and his wife are studying English on an app, but he isn’t that far along.

“I just heard ‘photo,’” Agustín said, laughing.

Told later of his father’s celebrity in Section 122 and throughout the stadium, Yordan grinned. “He’s more famous than me,” he said.

12 views0 comments


bottom of page