It’s no secret that professional athletes often go to astonishing lengths to make a career of the game they love. There’s perhaps no group for whom that is more true, however, than Cuban baseball players seeking to make it to the Major Leagues. Not only do they have to escape their home country, usually by traveling in a small boat at night to another island nation, but they then have to find a way to make it to America. Most are forced to hire representatives with a special set of (often illegal) skills in order to succeed in that endeavor.
Chicago White Sox All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu was no different. As one of Cuba’s best young players, he was making roughly twenty dollars a month when, in 2013, he was presented with the opportunity to flee with his family to nearby Haiti. They would eventually end up in the Dominican Republic, where he impressed a number of MLB teams. Chicago saw enough to offer the slugger a contract worth sixty-eight million dollars (or more than 283,333 years-worth of salary at his Cuban pay). However, that contract was contingent on the first baseman making it to Chicago in time to sign it.
Unfortunately for Abreu, he didn’t yet have the legal documents necessary to get to the States and was worried that they wouldn’t arrive in time, so one of his handlers procured a fake passport that worked well enough to get him on the plane to the US. The catch was that he couldn’t still have it once they touched down in Miami. Strangely, Cubans were allowed to remain in the US if they arrived with no documents but false ones were grounds for deportation.
Given that there aren’t a lot of ways to dispose of a passport on a plane, he ripped out the first page that held his information, threw the rest away in the bathroom, and then returned to his seat where he slowly ate it over the course of the flight. He would go on to sign his contract and pay roughly twenty-five percent of it to the men who helped him reach America.
While his story is amazing, it’s hardly rare for Cuban players. Many have endured far worse in their quest to make it to the Major Leagues. Despite the hardships, however, the prospect of fulfilling their dreams and providing for their families in a manner that’s simply not possible back home drives them to risk whatever they must. I wonder, could the same be said of us?
No sacrifice we could ever make for the cause of Christ would match what Jesus has already done for us. No difficulty can erase the debt that we owe to our Lord and savior—a debt that he neither expects nor asks us to repay. And no risk is too great for the potential reward of seeing others experience the same salvation God has so graciously offered to us.
It’s easy to look at stories like that of Jose Abreu and marvel at the lengths he and others have gone to in the pursuit of their dreams. However, emulation is a more fitting reaction than admiration. Can you imagine how much we could do for the kingdom and our culture if our commitment to the cause of Christ mirrored their commitment to baseball? God can, and it’s why he’s called each of us to do just that on a daily basis. It will seldom be easy, but his word promises that it will always be worth it (Philippians 3:8–9).