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Visit from Cuban National Team Brings Back Home for One Boulders Pitcher

By Christian Heimall, 06/23/16, 1:15PM EDT


Cuban-Born Alex Gouin Looks Forward to Competing Against His Home Country

(POMONA, NY) – If you ever sit and watch Rockland Boulders starting pitcher Alex Gouin, you notice a number of things right off the bat. The 5’11” righty is very smart; a double major in Economics and Finance at the University of Hartford proves that. He also is an above-average pitcher, posting a career earned run average of 3.63 in 23 career appearances for Rockland.

However, one thing that surprises most people who talk to the West Orange, New Jersey native is that the Garden State was not his home; nor was the United States. Gouin was born on September 8, 1991 in a small town in Cuba. He and his parents began their trek to the US in 2000, just before Alex’s ninth birthday, but not in the traditional manner so many professional baseball players do.

“We didn’t have to defect, we pretty much went the legal route,” explained Gouin. “We tried to get the Visa and while we didn’t quite get permission to go the US, we got permission to leave and bounced around for a few months before making our way here.”

A 15-month journey that included stops in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico before finally setting foot in Miami in 2001, was one done out of the desire to chase the ‘American Dream’ and for Alex’s parents to help better their lives and that of their son and daughter, Areli.

“Growing up as a kid in Cuba, you have this idea that America is some Utopian place where you have streets of gold and everything is great. When you get here, you realize it’s a lot tougher than that but you can still chase that dream with hard work and sacrifice.”

“Things in Cuba are rough and the whole plan was always to get our family out,” Alex recalls of the first eight years of his life. “My dad was a doctor and my mom was a nurse but combined they were only making about $30 a month. There’s a lot of things they wanted to do and it was definitely a risk but we were very blessed to have family help us.”

That family was his mother’s aunts, who first left Cuba almost five decades ago. He notes that the more than year-long ordeal and constant bouncing around was a way to give them more time to raise the funds and complete the necessary paperwork to bring the rest of the family stateside. It’s a process that is still ongoing for the one-time West Orange High School standout.

“It’s very expensive and takes a lot of energy out of you,” Gouin notes, explaining that just a couple of years ago, his parents helped bring his paternal uncle to the United States.

While his story may not have the same horror movie plot twists as some of the high-profile Major League stars who have escaped the Castro regime, Gouin is quick to point out that even the legal route is one riddled with fear.

“There were things that my parents would tell me when we were getting out that I knew I could never repeat because of the risks in what we were doing. My father was taken into custody and questioned multiple times; and unlike here with freedom of speech, if you said anything they felt offended the government or someone of power, they immediately threw you in jail.”

The 24-year-old recalls one specific memory that included waiting in a bus for 15 hours at the Costa Rican border as his family made their way out of Nicaragua.

“Living in Costa Rica, we didn’t have the proper paperwork so I guess you could say we were there illegally,” says Gouin, whose parents called him a ‘grown little man’ because of what he was experiencing at such a young age. “If they stopped us at the border, or while living there, and asked for paperwork, we would not have been able to provide it and would have been sent back to Cuba.”

Fortunately for him, and his family, they were able to safely arrive and begin a new life in America. It was a transition that, while harder for his parents, included some physical moments for a man that would describe himself as a subdued child.

“The language barrier and culture difference is tougher when you’re older,” Gouin reveals, showing very little signs of an accent. “But I was immediately submerged in it. I went to a Christian Baptist school where there may have been one other Spanish speaking person. I watched a lot of cartoons and movies that were in English which helped, but when I was younger I got into a lot of altercations because either I didn’t understand them or they didn’t understand me.”

Despite being ‘Americanized’ by his own admission, don’t get the right-hander with an impressive breaking ball and a quiet demeanor wrong, there is still very much a sense of Cuban pride flowing through his veins.

“I’ve been here for more than half my life now but there will always be Cuban in the blood,” he says, noting his excitement for the improved relations between his birthplace and his adopted home country. “I think it’s great. It makes it a lot easier to go back and now the world gets to see how beautiful the country is.”

So as Gouin, who has only been back to his home country once in the last 15 years, prepares to face his national team at Palisades Credit Union Park, he reflects on a life that he believes wouldn’t even include baseball had he remained in Cuba.

“Baseball is big there but you don’t have little league or t-ball and there aren’t enough resources for each middle school or high school to have a baseball team,” Alex says of the biggest sport in the country he was born in. “I would have had to move to Havana at a very young age to join an academy but not everyone can afford that.”

Gouin credits his love for the game to his grandfather, who escaped in 1996, but not before teaching Alex how to throw and instilling a deep respect for baseball. That love, respect, and skill (he holds the career record for saves at Hartford), has given him an opportunity that many in his home country dream for; to play professionally in the United States. While it may not be under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium, like Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (who will be in attendance on Friday), it’s something that warms the heart of a very humble man.

“If there is one thing baseball does, it’s unite people. This weekend is going to be huge, not because you’re pitching against your own country, but because you get to be at this level of baseball and represent your country in your own way. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Fifteen years after a 15 hour night, fearful of being sent back to Cuba, that ‘grown little man’ his parents helped bring to the US has found his piece of the American Dream. This weekend, he gets to share it with his family, his friends, and, for the first time, his country. Both of them.