01 Aug Jon Jay’s Journey From Miami To Havana
Few names sound more American than John Jay.
It’s the name of one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, who was also the first chief justice and has a college in New York City named after him.
While their first names are spelled slightly different, Chicago Cubs outfielder Jon Jay carries the same American-sounding name. Yet this former University of Miami All-American slugger and Chicago Cubs outfielder is distinctly Latino, even if most fans are not fully aware of his Cuban roots and Miami upbringing.
A CHILD OF THE REVOLUTION
It is perhaps easy to miss the fact that he’s a proud Cuban-American. In fact, Jay has gotten accustomed to being misidentified as African-American. But his parents’ heritage is deep and meaningful.
Jay’s parents were born in Cuba, and they migrated to the U.S. in the early 1960s as part of a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands who fled Fidel Castro’s revolution.
Being born in the U.S. did not alter Jon Jay’s Cuban identity. This became clear as he talked with La Vida Baseball at Wrigley Field in late August.
FOOD AND FAMILY
Food beckons memories of home, of being among loved ones. The smells of pernil (roast pork), arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas) and plátanos (plantains) can evoke for many memories of family. The subject of those familiar foods got Jay going.
First up to the plate were plátanos — and whether he preferred them as tostones (green and starchy) or maduros (ripe and sweet).
“I’m more of a tostones guy. I like the crunchiness,” Jay replied.
Then he really brought it home estilo cubano, throwing a curveball with a third option.
“I am more of a mariquitas guy — I love my plantain chips.”
Asked his preference when it comes to Cuban espresso or café con leche?
Jay responded with a smile: “Definitely café con leche.”
And then came the confession, one familiar to many Latinos.
“I began to drink café con leche at a young age,” Jay admitted. “I’m not going to lie, I had it out of a bottle when I was younger. It’s something I love to this day. And every time I come home, straight to Grandma’s, she’ll have my café con leche ready for me.”
A DIFFERENT KIND OF HOMECOMING
As a first-generation Cuban-American, Jay had never been to Cuba prior to participating in a goodwill tour in December 2015 organized by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
The tour was unprecedented. The MLB had been to Cuba in 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles played the Cuban national team in Havana. But the group visiting this time included Cuban baseball defectors José Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Alexei Ramírez and Brayan Peña. Along for the ride were stars Clayton Kershaw, the Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera and the Dominican Nelson Cruz. This trip as a baseball détente between a country that produces a lot of good ballplayers and a sport that covets them all.
When the list of players chosen to travel was announced, quite a few were surprised to see Jon Jay’s name on the list.
“I have always flown under the radar just because of my name,” said Jay, who at the time was with the San Diego Padres.
“But both my parents were born in Cuba. My mom comes from Matanzas and my dad from Santiago. So, I have a lot of pride. I grew up in the Cuban culture. My grandparents, and everything we ate, everything we did, was in that family-oriented Cuban tradition.”