CHICAGO -- The father of Reds rookie Yonder Alonso, Luis Alonso, took a front-row seat at an empty Wrigley Field on Monday afternoon as his son stretched with his club and took batting practice. Luis Alonso speaks little English, but the pride on his face needed no translation. "It's beautiful. He's in the big leagues," Luis Alonso said after searching for the English words. "It's Wrigley Field."
Luis Alonso, himself a former professional ballplayer and coach in Cuba for the renowned Industriales club, had seen his son play in the Majors before. He even saw Yonder crush a homer last month against the Marlins in their adopted hometown of Miami, but Luis had never been to Chicago. "After the game [Monday], he was like, 'Wow, this is unbelievable.' It's pretty neat," Yonder Alonso said. "I took him out for dinner. Obviously, I had the check. I can pay for it. It's cool he gets to the see big league game and the big league life." Only 24, Yonder Alonso continually wants to show appreciation for the life his parents provided he and his younger sister Yainee. When Alonso was 9 years old, Luis and his wife, Damarys, made the weighty decision to leave Cuba for a better life in the United States. They gave up everything, including Luis' career in baseball. Privately and without divulging anything to friends or neighbors, the family managed to arrange for an airplane that would fly Alonso and his family out of Cuba. Alonso preferred not to share the details of exactly how they managed to leave the Communist-controlled nation, but he recalled the feeling he had on the flight. "It's pretty vivid. I remember getting on it," Alonso said. "Everyone was crying, pretty much. It was kind of a sad day to leave everybody behind. You don't know if you'll ever see them again. It's not like you go to Spain and say, 'Mom, Dad, see you in six months.' This is leaving for good. I never got to see both of my grandmothers again, or my aunt." Upon landing in Miami, it wasn't an American dream instantly realized, but one that took root in humble beginnings. The Alonsos would stay with friends for a couple of weeks before settling into their own place. No one in the family understood English or had any possessions beyond what they could carry on to the plane. One of their first outings was to a local K-Mart to buy clothes and necessities. "My Dad got a job real quick," Alonso said. "We moved out to a small efficiency, it was a small office, and lived there for three or four years. It was not even the size of the training room in here. There was another small room the size of the kitchen. It pretty much stunk." Both Yonder and Yainee, who is now attending the University of Miami, enrolled in school. Yonder further assimilated into American culture by playing baseball, which helped him learn English, and their parents were constantly on top of them about their schoolwork and getting good grades. They instinctively knew that would be the ticket to a better life. Luis is a warehouse manager for the Sherwin-Williams paint company, but one of his first jobs in Miami was as an office cleaner. It became a family vocation, as Yonder and his sister were enlisted as assistants. "I remember cleaning offices, me and my sister, for hours," Alonso said. "It'd be a whole day on Saturday and Sunday, cleaning early in the morning and then having a game at 4 or 5 p.m. Or after the games, we'd go clean." And when there wasn't cleaning for a young Yonder Alonso, there was baseball, and lots of it. Who better to provide much of the coaching than the former pro ballplayer from his family? "There were a lot of times during weekends we could either go to the beach or I had to go play games. Most of the time, we didn't go to the beach," Alonso said. The efforts would equate to Alonso becoming a sensation at Coral Gables High School and a star first baseman for the University of Miami. In 2008, he signed a $4.55 million Major League contract upon being the seventh overall pick by the Reds. That contract guaranteed that the days in small apartments and cleaning offices were over forever. Alonso, who bought his parents a home, debuted in the Majors last September. He returned this season on July 26, when the Reds traded Jonny Gomes to open a roster spot. "I owe it to them," Alonso said. "They sacrificed themselves. Now hopefully I can give a little piece of what they sacrificed to me and try to help them as much as possible." With Joey Votto firmly entrenched at his natural position, Alonso had to shift from his comfort zone at first base to left field. When that didn't initially go well, he spent considerable time on the bench as a pinch-hitter and made one start at third base. Now he's back playing in left field. His bat keeps finding ways to get him playing time, as he is batting .407 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 31 games. While fans have demanded he get more playing time, Alonso has handled the delicate situation perfectly. He defers to the organization and the wisdom of its veteran players in the clubhouse and never complains. When you've experienced what he has, Alonso can handle waiting his turn a little longer. Meanwhile, he's savoring every aspect of the Major League life, and he spent part of this week trying to share that joy to the man who helped make it possible, Luis Alonso. "Nothing at all do I take for granted," Yonder Alonso said. "Even if I have 10 years in this league, I will not take one day for granted. I know not only how special this is for me, but for my family. It's something I definitely will never forget."