By John Philip Wyllie
Realizing that there was no future for a professional baseball player in Cuba, pitcher Yoankis Turino boarded a boat, took a deep breath and set to sea a year and a half ago hoping to escape Castro’s clutches. Under the cover of darkness, Torino managed to slip out undetected and avoid the Cuban authorities that regularly patrol the area. He found himself a day later in the nearby Dominican Republic, but his ultimate goal still remained. Wanting to play baseball in America, he flew to Los Angeles a month ago and last week became the newest member of the San Diego Surf Dawgs.
“It is especially difficult to leave Cuba when you are playing at a higher level in sports. The government keeps a closer eye on you,” Turino said Sunday through Brian Watkins, the Surf Dawgs General Manager who served on this occasion as an interpreter.
Turino was forced to leave behind his parents, four siblings and many friends in order to pursue his dream. He also sacrificed all that he had accomplished as a solid pitcher for the Havana Industriales, a Cuban national champion in three out of the last four seasons.
“I was forced to leave because of the economic situation in my country. Playing baseball, you just can’t get to the next economic level like you can here,” Turino said.
Having not pitched for an extended period since leaving Cuba, Turino will have to first get back into playing shape. To that end he was seen stretching, running sprints and pitching in the bullpen prior to Sunday’s game.
“He is out of shape, but what we saw is a really good arm motion and loose action. Once he gets into shape I think we will see that pop coming. Right now he needs to get his wind. Every other day we will have him pitch a good side and maybe have him ready to roll for the weekend series in Reno,” said former Padres All-Star catcher and current Surf Dawgs skipper, Terry Kennedy.
Seeing the potential in Turino, Kennedy does not intend to hurry his development. Said to have a mid-90s fastball, excellent control and a deceiving curve, Turino may get snatched up by one of the Major League clubs once he regains his form.
Readjusting to baseball is not the only challenge for the 6’5,” 27-year old southpaw, he is also struggling to learn English and understand the rules and peculiarities of the American culture. His host family has been helping him with that.
“In Cuba, everybody crosses the street whenever they feel like it. Here, there are traffic signs that you need to obey. In Cuba, people (often) throw their trash on the ground. Here, you are expected to use a trash can. About three or four of my teammates can speak at least a little Spanish and I am learning English.”
For Turino, each day is a learning experience here in America and he is just soaking it all in. He realizes that assimilating into the culture is important in helping him to achieve his immediate and long-term goals.
“My initial goal is to prepare myself, get ready and learn as much as I can so that I can get to the next level. If things go well, my ultimate goal is to make it to the Major Leagues.”