By Alfredo Alvarez
Miami, Fl- In an exclusive interview with “Con Las Bases Llenas,” the Cuban pitcher, Hassan Pena, tells us about his career in baseball and his recent suspension in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League.
Con Las Bases Llenas: Hassan, how were your beginnings in baseball?
Hassan Pena: Since I was very young, I liked baseball, but in Cuba there was a TV show for kids called: “The Little Champions,” which was what motivated me to start playing.
CLBL: What are your most beautiful memories playing for Industriales and Metropolitanos?
HP: Wow, brother! It was an incredible experience. I think the biggest thing was being able to play with players that I admired a lot since I was a child: Enrique Dias, Antonio Scull, Carlos Tabares, Yasser Gomez and many more.
CLBL: Did you know that despite your quality, they did not take you to the Cuban National Team for having a family in the United States? Is that true?
HP: That is very true. The two times I was pre-selected, I gave everything to be in the team. On the last chance I had, they cut me and that devastated me. Even my mom was talking to Rigoberto Blanco, manager of that team, and he replied that my “problem was outside the field, there were other things that wouldn’t let me make the roster.” In other words, having a family outside the country would not allow me to travel.
CLBL: How and when did you decide to leave Cuba?
HP: Well, I already saw that it would be difficult for me to integrate myself into a Cuban team, whatever my performance was. I lived in the same shelter where I was born, the so-called “Solar Tamarindo # 20,” the place was in awful condition, and I did not see a future in Cuba. My mother bent over backwards just to bring a plate of food to the table. It was there that a man appeared that I did not know and offered to take me out of the country. Actually, I did it more for my mother. She spent too many years doing the impossible so we could survive. I thought even if I can’t play baseball in the United States, it will be okay because I can still give her a better life, even if I have to do grunt work instead of pitching.
CLBL: How were your years of experience in the Minor Leagues with the Washington Nationals and the Kansas City Royals?
HP: They were more good than bad. I even became one of the best prospects. But my mistake was bringing a Cuban mentality to the United States. I thought I knew everything, and that did not bring good results. My bad attitude cost me the opportunity to play in the big leagues. The same coaches told me “Hassan, you’re not gonna get anywhere with that attitude.” Thank God that changed and now I am a professional.
CLBL: You played in several Winter Leagues, including Mexico and Venezuela. Tell us a little about your winter career.
HP: Thank God I have done very well in the Winter Leagues. I think that mental maturity has helped me a lot. I know these leagues are prestigious, and with a lot of dedication, work and discipline, I have been able to do succeed.
CLBL: Hassan, in these last days your name has been on the tongues of many, and in several publications. This is because you tested positive for marijuana for the second time, and have been suspended for over 25 games. Not only that, but they have taken away the Closer of the Year award, which you won with so much effort last season. What happened, Hassan?
HP: The truth is I smoked weed. It’s something that I do sporadically. The truth is that it takes away my stress a little. I do not have an addiction. I am an honest man, I do not hurt anyone. I do not feel that I have to be ashamed of anything, it is something that is even used in medicine. They just do not want to make it totally legal.
CLBL: Do you think your penalty has been unfair? Did they treat you unfair since you are a foreigner?
HP: I do not know if it is unfair or not, because the LVBP (Venezuela Professional Baseball League) has its rules that must be respected. What I do not understand is that the same penalty is given to an athlete who uses steroids to improve their performance. I do not think it should be like that, but hey, it’s the rules and I do not have control over that. I would like to see what happens if they test for cannabis in the big leagues. I assure you that more than 70% of the players would be suspended.
CLBL: Do you have plans to appeal this decision?
HP: I do not think I’m going to appeal anything. I have to face the consequences, which might be unfair, but it’s something I knew could happen, although I’ll keep going because I’m not a cheater.
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