There are a few things to like about Aroldis Chapman, the pitcher who defected from Cuba and is looking for an MLB team to pitch for.
First, he thumbed his nose at Fidel Castro and all those whiny, Castro-loving celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Oliver Stone by defecting. (Granted, his reason for defecting may stem from the prospect of millions of American dollars rather than a thirst for political freedom).
Second, at a recent bullpen session in Houston in front of many Major League scouts, he was impressive with his pitching "stuff". Ed Wade (you know, that guy charged with the general managing of the Houston Astros; tantamount these days to taking a large pile of cow manure and making it smell nice) liked what he saw. Chapman's fastball reportedly reached 102 mph during the World Baseball Classic earlier this year, and he apparently has a changeup and curveball.
Third, his size and his age. Chapman's 21, 6'4" and a lefthander. Wade even called Chapman a "physical specimen", reminding me of all the exuberance Bill Nye the Science Guy had when explaining science to all his adolescent viewers.
What may also work in Chapman's favor is that he doesn't speak English.
No worries about him being intimidated by Bleacher Bum—especially if Bleacher Bum has the obliviousness of the late, great, horribly missed former MLB umpire Ron Luciano. In his book The Umpire Strikes Back, Luciano recalled the many chats he had with former MLB slugger Tony Oliva when Oliva was at bat. Oliva would frequently reply, "Pretty good, Ron".
Luciano later learned the reason why Oliva was such an excellent listener: except for "Pretty good, Ron", he didn't speak any English.
Is there a chance that Chapman will trade his ugly Cuban National Team uniform for an ugly black and brick Houston Astros uniform?
I'm not optimistic.
Not that Houston couldn't use a solid lefthanded pitcher...the Astros need a lefthander, especially in the starting rotation, the way Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo needs a December win. Or the way the Cleveland Browns need to convince Mike Holmgren to make them his next "project."
In other words, horribly.
But before my fellow Astros fans form an Aroldis Chapman in Houston Facebook page, let's consider this:
At the World Classic, while Chapman no doubt made many shriek "Zowie!" (or "Zaui!" as they'd say in Spanish), he reportedly was ineffective. Granted, Nolan Ryan was wild early in his career, but it's also possible Chapman could become the next Mitch Williams: a lefthander with a great but very erratic fastball. Or he could be one of those pitchers who have great tools but never quite grasp how to use them.
Yes, Hideo Nomo had a decent MLB career. But for every Nomo there are many Hideki Irabus. Granted, they're not Cuban, but they're international, and sometimes the stars from other countries don't quite pan out.
It's entirely possible that Houston-based Hendricks Sports Management, which currently represents A-Chap, will simply ask for far more than what the thrifty Houston Astros are willing to pay. Teams with far deeper pockets are also looking for quality pitchers. Of course, HSM has issues of its own: it's currently being sued by Chapman's former agent, Athletes Premier International.
For now, we sit and wait to find out if Houston will only be known as the place where Chapman had a workout that impressed MLB scouts.
Richard Zowie's a long-suffering Houston Astros fan who dreams of someday getting Fox Sports Southwest so he can see 'Stros games from Michigan, where he now lives. Post comments below or, for a personal reply, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.