Michel Enríquez: “The Cuban athlete is competitive since birth, it’s in our blood.”

Photo (Web Screen Shot): Michel Enríquez is best third baseman you’ve never heard of

Por Yusseff Díaz

Michel Enríquez has been nicknamed “The Super 12” by the island’s fans due to his innate ability to get key hits and make plays at the most opportune times during his career. Aside from Omar Linares no third baseman is more revered by the Cuban fateful.

During his 22 year career he amassed more than 2,000 hits, swatted 163 round-trippers and drove in 906 runs. All this while posting a slash line of .356/.456/.525/.981. He also holds the single season records for hits in a single  season for the Serie Nacional.

In 2005-06 he won a batting title in Cuba and hit a robust .447 earning him a spot on Cuba’s 2006 World Baseball Classic squad that finished runner-up in the tournament against top MLB talent. Enríquez in part was a fixture in Cuba’s international “Big Red Machine” that won countless amount of international tournaments including a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

In your second season in the Serie Nacional you established the record for hits in a single season. How were you able to accomplish this a such a young age?

In spite of my youth I was able to adjust to such good pitching like we had in Cuba during that time by having patience and discipline at the plate. Getting pitchers into deep counts really helped me especially against all the great pitchers we had during the early 2000’s.

How did Alexander Ramos help you in your development as a player?

He helped me plenty during my career. Early in my career he was the team’s captain and would often give me advice on how to face certain pitchers. The advice he gave helped build my confidence and without a doubt his guidance guided me become the player I am today.

Although you hit .353 in 2000 you were inexplicably left of that year’s Olympic team. Did that bother you in any way?

The decision did bother me a little, but I thanked the people who make decisions for giving me the opportunity to try out for that club.

The decision came down to the last day and it was between myself and five others. The manager of the club Sergio Borges told me I was in the mix for a final roster spot in spite of my youth. Borges later that day relayed to me that I didn’t make the cut but due to my youth,but I would have more opportunities in the future. I conveyed to him in a respectful manner that although I was young I though I had earned the right to represent my country based on my performance. I also asked him if he thought in four years I would be the same player? I mean I was ready to compete with anyone and was on a tear heading into that Olympics.

During the pre-tournament preparation games I hit something like 16-20 against international powerhouses like Japan and Australia. I also hit very well in intraquad games against the like of Pedro Lazo, José Contreras, Maels Rodríguez and Lázaro Valle. In all this was one of my best pre-tournament performances ever.

Photo (Web Screen Shot): Enriquez was part of Cuban Olympic teams in 2004 and 2008.

Did you feel vindicated that you made the team for 2004 and 2008? Tell me about those experiences?

The 2004 games was very beautiful experience, not only did I earn the spot once again in my opinion, but I also won a gold medal. The Olympics are the epitome of an athlete’s career. This is a competition where all the top athletes in the world go head to head.

Representing your country in these games in my opinion is the most beautiful experience that an athlete can have during his career. My grandest memory was my first at bat in the 2004 Olympics, because I hit a homerun. I don’t recall any other Cuban player that has hit a longball in his first Olympic at bat.

In the 2008 Olympics in Seoul I took the bus from the Olympic village and Usain Bolt sat next to me. I was able to take pictures with Lionel Messi, Rafael Nadal, Kobe Bryant and Marc Gasol. I was also able to see the presidents of the US and Russia. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

When did you guys realize that you had the talent to compete with the top ball clubs in the 2006 World Baseball Classic?

When we beat Puerto Rico in the play in game for the semifinal, that game gave our confidence a big boost. The beat us by knockout in the first round of the tournament, not only did this game vindicate us but it also energized us for the rest of the tournament. Losing to Puerto Rico really woke us up.

The Cuban athlete is competitive since birth, it’s in our blood.

Photo (Web Screen Shot): Enríquez robs “Pudge” Rodríguez of an extra base hit in 2006 World Baseball Classic.

You made your pro debut in 2013 in the Mexican League with Campeche, what did you learn from that experience?

Being one of the pioneers of Cuban baseball’s reentry into the professional arena gives a great sense of pride. México has a very talented league. The signing caught me off guard. I had no idea it was coming, especially because I wasn’t in game shape.

They asked me to leave for México the following day, but I asked if I could have at least a week to get in game shape and do some training, to which the obliged.

After a week I made my trip to México and hit it off with my new teammates and management in Campeche. Right off the bat I learned one thing, in the professional game you are on your own. Everything you do from training to dieting is up to you. In this arena no one holds your hand, you are expected to behave like a professional. In Cuba everything is the exact opposite of the pro game. On the island everything is a set schedule that is provided to us by our provincial team.

In the league I was able to see a different level of pitching and some very talent hitters as well. I was also able to learn and experience new training methods, this really helped me plenty in my career.

Although I didn’t perform to way I know I’m capable of performing. I hit something like 6 for 25. I was playing a little hurt but I’m not using that as an excuse. I was given every opportunity to succeed by the club and I just wasn’t at my best. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity that Campeche gave me. All in all this was a very positive experience for me.

Photo (Web Screen Shot): Enríquez saw his first action outside of Cuba in 2013 with Campeche of the Mexican League.

You get your 2,000th hit off Yanier Blanco in Capitán San Luis stadium in Pinar del Río. Please describe that experience?

It was a beautiful thing especially because it took me 10 days to get from 1999 to 2000, I guess I was pressing a little. This experience was one of the best moments of my career. I had lost my mother that year and getting that hit was a gift to her and all my fans. In one brief moment plenty of years of hard work, perseverance, dedication and respect for the game came to head.

Would you have liked to play in the Major Leagues?

Of course I would have, it’s a goal that everyone who plays baseball has, but I only wanted to play if I was allowed to return home after the season and spend it with my family. My return was based on laws that us Cubans do not decide. I would have happily loved to have played in the big leagues, but only under the conditions of being able to come back home after the season.

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