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Colorado just the latest stop in Iglesias’ inspirational and emotional journey

The 32-year-old Cuban risked everything to make it to the Big Leagues and is making an impact for the Rockies early on

On Opening Day, he made me cry.

On Monday, he went 4-for-5 with the go-ahead RBI single against Texas and led the on-field discussion with umpires to argue for a slide violation.

Of the many exciting storylines of this young 2022 season, the José Iglesias one might be my favorite.

What makes the Iglesias highlights even more impactful is how unexpected they have been. The 2021-22 offseason was loaded with free-agent shortstops, including Corey Seager (who signed a 10-year, $325 million deal with Texas), Story (who signed a six-year, $140 million deal with Boston), Javier Báez (who also signed a six-year, $140 million deal, but with Detroit), and Carlos Correa (who signed a three-year, $105.3 million deal with Minnesota). It was an accepted reality that the Rockies would lose Story and wouldn’t be big spenders on his replacement.

In the wake of losing Story and ending the 14-year run of guys named Troy Tulowitzki or Trevor Story being the main shortstops for the Rockies, I had low expectations for the position this season. When the Rockies signed Iglesias to a one-year, $5 million deal on March 16, I figured he would be average at best, but nothing like the bat and glove Rockies fans were used to at shortstop.

Through 14 at-bats over four games, Iglesias is slashing .357/.438/.429 with two RBI, one run scored, and one double. Obviously, those numbers aren’t unsustainable, but Iglesias is fitting in nicely so far.

It only took two innings for me to become a fan of Iglesias. Even with an Opening Day loss, Iglesias got the emotions going on day one of the 2022 season. After singling in the second inning, Iglesias rounded first base and the tears began to fall. For the first time in 978 MLB games, Iglesias wasn’t going to be able to talk to his dad about the game after being able to do so after all the other 923 hits in his career. José’s dad, Candelario Iglesias, passed away two weeks before Opening Day.

“As soon as I hit the ball, the first thing that came to my mind was my dad. Because he watched every single game,” José said after the game.

José played baseball with his father growing up in Cuba. Candelario played professionally in Cuba and then helped his son follow in his footsteps at the same position – shortstop – to earn a spot on the Cuban junior national team for the first time at the age of nine.

On a trip to Canada with the Cuban national team, an 18-year-old José decided to defect. He and his roommate, Noel Arguelles, left their Edmonton hotel and headed south to the United States border. He could tell hardly anyone. He risked not being able to see his family—his dad, mom, and four siblings—again. He risked never being able to return to his home country again. He risked being called a traitor by the Cuban government, which vilifies baseball players who dream of playing in the MLB and are willing to risk everything to do it.

“It was so hard,” Iglesias told The Orange County Register in 2021. “Ridiculous hard. You left everything. Your family. Your friends. Your bed. Your home. Everything. And all for that dream.”

His first night in the U.S. was spent in a mattress-less jail cell in Montana. For a year, he completed the complicated process of gaining residency in the Dominican Republic to earn status that would allow him to be signed by an MLB team because of Cold War-era rules still on the books. (The rules were repealed in a historic deal in 2018, but then that deal was canceled in 2019).

In 2009, José’s dreams came true. The Red Sox signed him to an $8.5 million deal, including a $6 million signing bonus, which allowed him to send money back to support his family in Cuba. On May 8, 2011, Iglesias made his MLB debut for Boston at the age of 21. Candelario made his way to Cuba in 2011, just in time to see a very big day. By 2015, with the Tigers, José earned the name All-Star in a season when he hit .300/.347/.370 in 416 at-bats.

“When I was 18 years old, I came to this country with shorts and a T-shirt and a dream to be a big-league player,” Iglesias told The Orange County Register in 2021. “I put in the effort and the discipline. And obviously, God’s hands touched me. And that’s why I’m here today. I couldn’t be happier with everything I’ve done in my life and the way that I’ve done it.”

Candelario lived with José and his wife, Arlene, and the couple’s three kids. In 2013, José was finally able to see his mom again in a coordinated meet-up in Mexico. In 2018, Iglesias completed the process to become a U.S. citizen, which was capped off by a formal ceremony at Comerica Park on June 25, 2018.

On April 8, he played his first game as a Rockie. When he got his first single and earned a hug from Freddie Freeman in an emotional moment, he became more than a shortstop on a baseball team, holding down the spot which is likely to be won over by Ezequiel Tovar (No. 6 PuRP) in the near future. He showed his human side, revealing the power of baseball and the bonds it forges between people.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Iglesias said. “Beyond baseball, we are human beings.”