FAU pitcher embraces life in new land
Baseball helps Garcia transition to new country at a young age
At 10 years old, Florida Atlantic University’s Ahmed Garcia arrived in the United States with his family. It was a different world than Cuba where Garcia grew up. There was capitalism rather than communism, and the English language, as opposed to the Spanish language of his homeland. But, for that lost little boy, there was one thing that remained constant in both Cuba and the U.S. – baseball.
Garcia’s father, Gustavo, had been a political prisoner in Cuba before the family arrived in the U.S. in 2000.
“He was fighting for civil rights in Cuba, and they sent him to jail for something he did,” Garcia said. “In a Communist country, you really can’t do anything. We went to immigration in Cuba, and they accepted to come to the U.S. on the basis of political asylum. My father and his family were allowed to come here because he was in jail unjustly.”
Garcia, his parents, two brothers, aunt and grandmother headed to Miami, Fla. – known for its large Cuban community – and settled with some distant cousins. He immediately started school, and began learning the English language as a fifth-grader.
“I remember the beginning was tough,” Garcia said. “I would literally cry every day because I couldn’t understand anything. I would tell my parents I wanted to go home back to Cuba … I was lost here. But little by little I started getting used to the new culture and new language. The main barrier was English. As soon as I started getting the hang of it, I started understanding everything.”
While adapting to the language was difficult, playing baseball made Garcia’s transition to America much easier.
“I started playing baseball as soon as I got here,” Garcia said. “Baseball was the key to my success. I didn’t need to speak English to play baseball. It’s like math … it’s the same in America or Cuba or China or Japan. It was like a bridge that helped me adapt to this country.”
Garcia eventually pitched for South Miami Senior High School, turning in a 9-1 record and 0.98 ERA with seven complete games in his senior season to earn 6A-5A first-team all-state honors by the Miami Herald.
Florida Atlantic head coach John McCormack was informed of Garcia’s talents from the Owls’ head trainer, whose father was coaching Garcia at the time.
McCormack was told of Garcia’s situation as a resident alien when he went to see the left-hander pitch for the first time. Garcia and his mother lived in a tiny apartment in Miami, and when Garcia went on his recruiting visit to FAU, located 50 miles away in Boca Raton, he took the commuter train to West Palm Beach, and hopped a bus to campus.
“He’s fearless, which probably developed because he grew up a lot on his own,” McCormack said. “He has an unwavering belief in himself that he’s better than the guy he is pitching against that day.”
Garcia resembles fellow Cuban-born Orlando Hernandez, also known as “El Duque,” when he pitches. After a successful freshman season, Garcia redshirted as sophomore due to a shoulder injury, and is now a middle reliever for FAU. Entering the week, Garcia was 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA and nine strikeouts in six appearances.
“He’s become very valuable because he throws a lot of strikes,” McCormack said. “I always tell these guys don’t look at how many innings you pitch or how many appearances you have – look at when they occur. His have always occurred in good spots against for the most part good teams.”
In addition to his pitching talents, Garcia is also solid in the classroom while majoring in economics.
“My dream is to play baseball at the next level, but if that doesn’t happen with an education and my good grades, I can easily get a good job,” Garcia said.
In the next few weeks, it will not be a school exam that Garcia will be worrying about. Garcia, who has put in an application to become a U.S. citizen, will be studying a lot of American history in order to pass his U.S. Citizen Test.
“It’s exciting,” Garcia said. “I am now a part of this country. I’m always going to be Cuban, but I live here and this is the place that gave me everything I have now. I’m nervous, too, because I have to take an exam.”
If all goes well, Garcia could be an American citizen by the end of the baseball season. This may be his new home, but he is interested in returning to Cuba one last time for a visit.
“When I left, I was very young and I didn’t leave much behind, unlike my parents,” Garcia said. “I don’t really miss much because I don’t remember a lot. But, I want to go back to visit in the future, and see my country succeeding without communism … as a free country … before I die.”
Florida Atlantic travels out of the Sunshine State for the first time this weekend with a three-game Sun Belt Conference series at Louisiana beginning April 1.