White Sox starter Carlos Rodón, who was born in Miami and raised partly there, can perhaps compose a variation of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s hit “Rhythm is Gonna to Get You.”
Estefan’s hit came to personify the Miami sound and how the (Cuban) roots are gonna get you.
Wearing It on the Sleeve
Things didn’t go as plan for the White Sox’s starting pitcher when the team celebrated Hispanic Heritage Night on Sept. 7. Rodón suffered a tough third inning. A Shohei Ohtani blast glanced off the glove of leaping center fielder Adam Engel for a three-run homer that put the Angels ahead. Rodón continued battling but eventually had an early exit in the fifth inning in a 5-2 Chicago loss.
He was proud of having had his turn on the mound on Hispanic Heritage Night.
A jacket worn that night by the wife of the newlywed Rodón displayed her pride in his journey and roots. Ashley Rodón’s jacket, which was adorned with bejeweled patches, included a Cuban flag on one shoulder and the United States flag on the other.
Rodón did not live the typical Cuban-American experience. His family left south Florida for North Carolina when he was still a youngster. Life as the son of a father born in Cuba and a Cuban-American mother in Holly Springs, North Carolina, was far different from that of his relatives who stayed in Miami.
“I lost all my Spanish, almost like I never even had it,” Rodón said.
Roots are Going to Get You
As a high school standout at Holly Springs, Rodón led the baseball team to a 2011 state championship. He stayed close to home for college, attending North Carolina State on a baseball scholarship.
NC State enjoyed a baseball revival while he was there. In 2013 he led them to their first College World Series appearance in 45 years.
Equally special was the trip he made in 2012 as a member of the USA Baseball collegiate national team. The memorable trip took him to the land of his Rodón forefathers. In fact, he’s reminded of the trip every time he is in the White Sox’s home clubhouse.
“I actually played against [current White Sox teammate José] Abreu,” he said. “We played in Havana stadium. … It was a pretty special moment for me.”
Mami Knows Best
Part of the way Rodón expresses pride in his Cuban roots is through his uniform. He made sure to participate in Major League Baseball’s “ponle acento” campaign that puts the right Spanish accents on the Latin American surnames. His accent mark appeared on the second “o” in his last name. It was at his mom’s insistence he decided to do so.
“My mom said, ‘you better put that accent on the back of your name, because that’s the proper way to spell it.’ So, I did that for her,” Rodón said laughing.
The accent serves as a visual marker of the family’s pride in their Cuban roots. After all, he grew up eating Cuban food such as platanito maduro and bistec empanizado. It was visits to his abuela, whom he lovingly called “Aya,” where he enjoyed the Cuban dishes he loved.
But it was at his parent’s home where he savored the best café con leche. “My mom makes the best one, so I think at least,” he said.
The conversation took Rodón back to his days in Miami. It also did something else.
White Sox Spanish-language interpreter Billy Russo couldn’t help but tease Rodón in overhearing the Cuban-American talking about his abuela and properly pronounce the names of his favorite foods and coffee in Spanish.
“So, you can speak Spanish now,” teased Russo.
That’s what recalling childhood days and time visiting his relatives in south Florida did to Rodón. Memories of the sabores cubanos and talking about his Cuban roots led him to poner el acento not just on his uniform but also on the way he speaks.
Featured Image: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images Sport