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Cuban emigrant Orlando Rodriguez of Cedar Rapids Kernels pushes to get to big leagues
Pitcher left his native country with his mother, father and younger brother in 2012 in search of the American Dream
CEDAR RAPIDS — He remembers his childhood as pleasant.
His parents provided for him and his younger brother. There was love, and that was the most important thing.
But Orlando Rodriguez’s mother and father wanted their boys to experience life beyond the communist, socialist shackles of Cuba.
“I mean, you’re pretty limited when it comes to resources. I would say all types of resources: food, transportation,” the Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher said. “I feel like I was happy there. Whatever I had, I made the most of it. My first few years, when I was young, I had a great time. But my mom and dad, they always made me see that there was more. We always dreamed of coming to the United States and chasing that American dream.”
Rodriguez is chasing his dream of pitching in the major leagues because his family emigrated to the United States 10 years ago, eventually settling in the Miami area. How they ended up there was a story of resolve and determination.
Cubans weren’t allowed to leave their country in 2012, but Rodriguez said his parents (Herme and Silvia Dieguez) discovered their grandparents’ grandparents were from Spain and applied for citizenship there.
“The only way out for us was through Spain,” Rodriguez said.
Herme, Silvia, 16-year-old Orlando and 14-year-old Rolando traveled to Spain, then the Netherlands, eventually finding their way to Canada. Family dropped them off near the U.S. border, and they literally walked their way to freedom from there.
Rodriguez said that walk was 150 kilometers, or about 90 miles. Once at the border, they showed American officials they were from Cuba and were welcomed into the country.
“The way I see it, my parents did it for us, my brother and I,” Rodriguez said. “Because we were so young, and like I told you, they always wanted us to see more than there was in Cuba. They sacrificed. When we got here, we had no family, we stayed at a friend’s house for two or three weeks because we didn’t have a place to stay. My family grinded it out.”
Herme Rodriguez, who was a professional sports shooter in Cuba, got a job as an Uber driver. Silvia, who worked for one of Cuba’s largest corporations, took odd jobs here and there.
“Then she started doing some insurance, taxes, anything on the computer because they were great at it,” Orlando said. “My parents did great for us, man. They put food on the table and kept it in our minds that whatever you want to do, you can do in this country.”
What both Rodriguez boys ended up doing was playing baseball. Both played collegiately, with Rolando Rodriguez now a hitting instructor in the Miami area.
Rolando always was a catcher, Orlando a pitcher.
Orlando actually was a national champion sports shooter as a youth in Cuba but eventually drifted toward baseball once the family got to the States. Rifles, ammunition and everything were just too expensive for the family to purchase.
Orlando began at Broward Community College and ended at St. Thomas University in Florida, an NAIA school from which he got a degree. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019 as a non-drafted free agent and pitched that summer with Rookie-level Billings until getting released. Then it was a short stint with Schaumburg of the independent Frontier League.
Rodriguez found a gig with the Sugar Land Lightning Sloths of the independent Constellation Energy League in Texas in 2020, one of the few minor leagues to operate that summer. It was back to Schaumburg to begin last season, with the Minnesota Twins offering him a contract in middle July.
He pitched one game for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Twins and four with the low-A Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. Mom and dad were able to watch him play a professional game there for the very first time.
“My mom, she’s so nervous,” he said with a smile. “If I’m pitching, she goes to the other side (of the field) and prays for me. She doesn’t want to see what happens.”
What has happened this season for the 26-year-old right-hander is a late April promotion to the high-A Kernels. Rodriguez has thrown in three games, hasn’t given up a hit or run in four innings and has struck out seven.
Who knows if he’ll ever be a big leaguer, but just getting that chance isn’t lost on him. He’s pushing not only for himself, but his mom and dad.
He’s trying to pay them back for the sacrifices they made for him and his brother.
“Baseball was always my passion. Definitely,” he said. “This is a great team. The chemistry is good, guys get along together, and we do it on the field.
“It’s an opportunity for me to get back to chasing my dream. To get back to affiliated ball, to an organization. I feel really happy … especially for my family.”
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