ATLANTA — Amid the dust swirling around them, Adonis García stood next to his younger brother in awe of the fluidity of movements before them. There was something so captivating about the way their father swung his old bat and threw the beaten-up stitched ball through the air. Days like these, breathing the smell of crisp grass and scattered dirt, won over the heart of the young boy.
Now, roughly three decades later, García is living his dream more than 935 miles away from the place he calls home.
The Atlanta Braves third baseman has found comfort where he least expected it.
“I never imagined that I would be playing here,” García said. “But I thank God to be here in this country playing baseball.”
Growing up in Ciego de Ávila, Cuba, García and his brother, José, would spend hours a day playing baseball in their neighborhood with their friends using whatever they could find to start up a game. When they weren’t sweating in the sun from hours of swinging bats and throwing balls, they would head over to watch their father play at a nearby field. Although staying versatile by playing basketball and becoming an avid boxer growing up, baseball won him over after watching his father play with such intense passion.
“Baseball was the sport I enjoyed the most out of all of them,” García recalled of his childhood in Cuba. “I looked up to my dad, and I wanted to play baseball like him.”
After years of grueling practices and intense workouts, García made his dream become reality when he was selected to play for the Cuban National Series with Ciego de Ávila in 2004, later playing for his country’s national team. While enjoying a successful career in the Cuban League, playing the sport he loved close to family and friends, things would change for him as he began to make his way to the United States; Garcia defected from Cuba in 2011. The transition wasn’t the easiest, but it was one he was determined to make.
Paperwork issues pushed García to play in the Venezuelan Winter League, followed by the 2012 Caribbean Series, before becoming an MLB free agent that February. By May 2012, Garcia found himself in a very different position. His phone rang. The New York Yankees were on the other end of the line.
“The transition was a lot of things, a lot of time trying to adapt to a different type of baseball. Here you play professionally; in Cuba, it is not as competitive,” García said. “Simply, it’s a lot more dedication, a lot more work. You have to work with discipline, which is very important, and little by little I started integrating myself and adapting to this baseball that we all know is the best in the world.”
Garcia was immediately assigned to the Tampa Yankees, New York’s Class-A advanced minor-league affiliate. He never stepped foot in Yankee Stadium. Once released from the Yankees, García started a new chapter in his life as he signed with the Atlanta Braves on April 1, 2015. However, it came with its share of setbacks once again as he was assigned to the Gwinnett Braves, another minor-league affiliate. He continued pushing.
Weeks later, on May 18, García was called up to the major leagues for the first time, a short-lived stint culminating in a return trip to the Triple-A team in Gwinnett. He was once again brought up to the major leagues on June 25, hitting his first home run in the major leagues just one day later. García treated the constant back-and-forth shuttling as a learning experience.
“Just imagine the change. It’s big. First off all, the happiness and joy to this step to be able to play in the major leagues, I felt very proud, and that is what helped me to work more and to keep working to maintain myself in this league and remain always happy,” García said. “To be here is very significant, you know. I am always going to be thankful for the years I spent in the minor leagues, the time I was in Gwinnett. But well, I think we all want to be here.”
After finishing the 2016 season batting .273 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI, the 31-year-old is making an impact in a Braves uniform once again as he enters into his third consecutive season as the team’s starting third baseman.
García hasn’t walked the easiest path to the majors, but it’s tough to tell with the cheek-to-cheek grin on his face when talking about baseball. Being away from his family wasn’t and hasn’t always been easy as the long days, and even longer nights, have taken their toll. Although he’s adjusted to the distance, García continues to look forward to the next time that he will get to see them.
“My family, my mom, my dad are still in Cuba. I get to see them every year, but they are still in Cuba,” García said. “Yes, you always want to have your family next to you, but the moment comes when you start getting used to where you are, and I just wait for the best moment to reunite with them.”
However, García discovered an extra boost: His brother will once again play in the same country he is in.
“It was something amazing when he signed with St. Louis,” García said with a smile of his brother, José, who recently signed with the Cardinals. “It has been a very nice transition for him, and that makes me very proud. I think having a younger brother who has looked up to me motivates me as well to continue playing baseball.”
With his family always in the back of his mind and Opening Day for the Braves on tap, what Garcia has in store for his third MLB season remains to be seen, but when you look down by third base you will know it’s him, his radiant smile visible as he plays the sport he fell in love with so many years ago.