Cuban-born infielder Barbaro Canizares, who defected seven years ago and now lives in Miami, Fla., is chasing his baseball dream in Winnipeg.
Canizares, 32, played his eighth game with the Winnipeg Goldeyes on Tuesday in a 5-3 win against the Sioux City Explorers at Shaw Park. He joined the team on the road on Aug. 21.
On a seven-game hitting streak and batting .500 heading into Tuesday's game, Canizares is bringing a big stick to the Goldeyes lineup and looking to breathe new life into his baseball career after two solid years in Mexico. He was 1-for-3 at the plate as the Goldeyes' designated hitter on Tuesday, registering one RBI and one walk.
"I feel good (about being with Winnipeg)," he said. "I haven't been in this league before and I think the league is good, there's good pitching and I'm happy to be here with them (Goldeyes)," said the Spanish-speaking Canizares, speaking through translator and teammate Yurendell de Caster.
"I will just come and play as hard as I can and you never know, somebody might see me and give me a chance back (in Major League Baseball)."
Canizares had a minute in the majors when he was called up by the Atlanta Braves on June 11, 2009 and made his MLB debut that day batting cleanup.
He played five MLB games and hit .190 in 21 at-bats with four hits and one run scored.
Goldeyes manager Rick Forney found out about Canizares after his 2012 season with the Guerreros de Oaxaca of the Mexican Professional League (LMB) ended on Aug. 9. Oaxaca lost 3-2 in a 10-inning game in the seventh and deciding game of their quarter-final series. Canizares hit the game-tying home run in the sixth inning. He hit .348 in 107 regular-season games.
Forney said his batting lineup is deeper with Canizares in it, hitting .500 in the cleanup position behind de Caster.
"He got to the big leagues because he can hit, not because he has Gold Glove ability on the defensive side. He's a tremendous hitter, a good approach at the plate and knows what he wants to do," Forney.
"We had a hole there (in the lineup) we needed to fill. It provided Yurendell with a lot of protection and Yurendell had a good road trip because of it. It takes a little weight off (right-fielder and No. 5 hitter Josh) Mazzola's shoulders and the other guys that were trying to fill in there."
Canizares, who lives with his wife and father in Miami, came to the United States after he defected from Cuba. But the story of his defection and perilous journey from Cuba will remain with him for now as he declined to talk about it.
Speaking through de Caster, he would only say he left Cuba on a boat that was turned back the first time he tried to leave.
ESPN-affiliate website mopupduty.com said in a story on Canizares that he defected to Nicaragua in 2005 after leading the Havana Industriales of the Cuban National Series to the league championship.
In Nicaragua, he dominated the league and was signed by the Atlanta Braves in 2006. He played several levels of minor league baseball, reaching AAA with Richmond in 2007-08 and Gwinnett in 2009-10 in the International League.
The Braves released him after the 2010 season at age 30. No offer came from any other organization so he headed to Mexico where mopupduty.com said he was "smacking the stuffing out of the baseball like it is a pi±ata" in his two years in the Mexican League.
In 2011, Canizares broke the league record for most home runs in a season with 20 in 234 at-bats with Yaquis de Obregon of the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), a winter league that is considered a slightly lower level than the AAA Mexican League.
He helped the team win the league title and the subsequent Caribbean series. He joined the LMB's Oaxaca later in 2011 where he hit .396.
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