On March 20, the news broke that Ivan Prieto, the bullpen catcher for Cuba in the fifth edition of World Baseball Classic had made the decision to stay in Miami and not return to that country.
A day before, the Cuban team had fallen by a score of fourteen to two against their arch rival from the United States in the semifinals of the event, a clash that took place in a crowded LoanDepot Park in the magic city.
Prieto has played in seven National Series in Cuba with Holguín (home province) and Granma. He posted a .287/.386/.390/.766 slash line, with 36 doubles, one triple, 17 home runs, 100 walks and 129 RBIs. He was the third string catcher for the Cuban team in the 2021 West Palm Beach Pre-Olympic and after his decision he became the first player to stay in a World Classic.
My good friend and colleague Henry Morales Márquez, a journalist for Pelota Cubana USA, had the opportunity to talk with the player about all the issues that surrounded his decision and the impact it will have on his life:
Welcome Ivan, how are you feeling?
“Thank you for the welcome. I feel good and I appreciate the invite, so let’s discuss the topic at hand”.
A few hours ago you formalized a contract with Leona Sports, a company founded by Lisset Carnet to continue your career in professional baseball. Tell us a little about that decision, because many people were uncertain if you were going to continue your career in professional baseball?
“Yes, the Leona Sports Agency is an agency works with many Cuban baseball players and I know several of them. Lázaro Blanco, Darling Jiménez, Rafael Sánchez, are friends of mine and are signed to Leona Sports. I talked with them about how they were doing with the agency and how being represented by Leona Sports works, during the conversation they had good things to say about the agency. I contacted Carlos Pérez, we were talking for a few days, I asked him for a few days to rest, clear my mind a bit, let the subject of my news pass for a bit. After that we agreed and I decided to sign with them so that they could advise me on what lays ahead.
When the news broke, it caught my attention, because you were in the Pre-Olympic tournament that was held precisely in Florida, so why stay now and not during that event?
“My decision was primarily for sports reasons, because I want to improve as player and try to play baseball at a higher level , so two years ago when I was in the Pre-Olympic I felt that my level of play was getting better. I started from the bottom and worked my through the whole system in Cuba. I actually felt that I was improving, I was already a starter in the National Series, I also had managed to make a Cuba team and I thought that my career on the rise. At the time of the WBC I felt like my career was starting stagnate a bit, because of how bad level of play in the National Series has gotten and I wanted to prove myself in a slightly higher level of baseball. That is the main reason why I decided to defect when the Classic ended.
During the selection process for the WBC, the Cuban Federation automatically made you the bullpen catcher, they didn’t even give you the opportunity to compete for a spot on the roster, did that affect you in any way?
“No, I think not, I just took it as a challenge, I asked myself what I needed do to make the roster. I didn’t know that I was going to be a bullpen catcher, when they released the roster I wasn’t there, so I thought I had no chance of participating in the Classic and then they give me that opportunity to go as a bullpen catcher and of course, who doesn’t want to be in a World Classic. The tournament is a great experience, it gives you the opportunity to rub elbows with MLB players, and see what it is to play baseball at a professional level. I took the whole experience as a learned lesson in my career.”
There are several accounts how you left the hotel, in your words how did the defection play out?
“Simply when the game was over we arrived at the hotel. I then went upstairs to my room , then I came back downstairs and went out to the side of the building through the parking lot (not through the main door), there I got in a car and they took me to another house” .
These decisions are not made overnight, you even left a seven-month-old girl in Cuba and you know that are facing and eight year ban from entering country. How does knowing this impact you?
“Yes, it is quite difficult, it is what makes you have doubts about leaving until the last minute, because family is an important part of one’s life. But this decision was made thinking about their future and about what I can do for them from the exterior.”
When did you realize that it was precisely the right moment to take this step?
“I hadn’t decided on it, it just came up after being here in the United States, I thought about it, analyzed it, talked about it with my family and decided to make the decision based on what I explained to you before. Being able to play baseball at higher level, being able to play in professional baseball and being able to chase the dream that everyone has, which is to play in the majors. That sole reason inclined me to make this decision.”
How were those first days for you with the bombardment of information, how were those first hours after that decision?
“It’s really hard, because in those first hours, the first days and even still, the thing you miss the most your family, it’s quite difficult. I had to isolate myself a bit and then deal with the media. There were many journalists and many people looking for me to solicit interviews that I did not want to give. I really have nothing to talk about, I made the decision completely for sports reasons, not for anything else and that’s why I distanced myself from all my social networks a bit. I was trying avoid any kind of comments and any kind of insinuations that I didn’t want to portray.”
Where would you like to start your career as a professional?
“The first idea is to start training, get in shape with high-level training. I will my agent hand the issue of find me a place to play because that’s there job. I feel like I’m with a great agency. I am going to put my future in their hands, they will come with God through job offers and offers from a team in a league. I would like to stay here to play, to be here playing in the United States, but if not, we will look for options in other winter leagues or in other places”.
Is there a message you like to send your family?
“I want to tell my family that I love them very much and to trust me that everything will just be fine.”