Even as Mariners outfielder Guillermo Heredia moves closer to his dream of steady big-league duty, he becomes increasingly aware of what he left behind.
It’s a familiar story for players who defect from Cuba — as Heredia did in 2015 in order to establish residency in Mexico as a prerequisite to signing with a major-league organization.
For years, it meant no going back. That seemed to be easing for a while, but the current political climate is again raising questions regarding future contact with family members and friends still on the island.
"It’s obviously very hard," Heredia admitted. "When you’re in Cuba, you don’t really think about that as part of your decision. But when you’re somewhere else, it becomes really hard.
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"But I do draw strength from that. I do move on and use that as motivation. And I can help them from here."
It helps that Heredia, 26, has two teammates who are also Cuban defectors in outfielder Leonys Martin and left-handed pitcher Ariel Miranda.
Martin testified recently as a witness in a federal case surrounding his 2010 defection that centered on charges of conspiracy and alien smuggling. Miranda defected in 2014.
"They’re part of the (acclimation) process," Heredia said. "Having them here is obviously helpful. While we might not have our own families here, the three of us are family. We’re going to help each other move forward and go through the days."
Heredia’s career is pointing upward.
After beginning last season at Double-A Jackson, he reached Triple-A Tacoma by late June and got a brief major-league look in late July before returning for good in mid-August.
Heredia provided the defense and speed that club officials expected but exceeded expectations at the plate. He batted .300 with a .395 on-base percentage in 93 minor-league games and more than held his own at .250 and .349 in 45 big-league games.
"I like the adjustments he’s made," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s flattened out his swing path a little bit. His swing is shorter than it was last year. He doesn’t have the wrap of the bat. It’s definitely something he’s worked on."
And it was work.
"It’s been a hard adjustment," Heredia admitted. "I’ve had the same swing for a long time. To make that adjustment now, and to have success, is welcome. You’ve got to make adjustments every day.
"That’s what baseball is about, making adjustments to improve."
So far, so good.
Heredia got off to a blazing start this spring, then cooled a bit before surging again to a .444 average at 14-for-33 plus a few web-gem catches in the outfield.
"He’s swinging the bat great," Servais said. "He’s got a lot of confidence right now. Good for him. He worked his tail off this offseason, and he’s getting some results."
Heredia still faces a challenge to be with the Mariners for their season opener on April 3 at Houston. He’s battling Ben Gamel for duty as the roster’s backup outfielder — and that’s assuming the Mariners don’t opt to keep two utilitymen.
"I’m a better player today than I was yesterday," Heredia said, "and a better player than a year ago. You pick up little things along the way. Sacrifice is part of the process. Every little bit has helped me get to where I am now."
Asked to identify his spring goals, he said, "The same characteristics who make me who I am. The defense, the leadoff ability, the ability to steal a base — those are the characteristics I need to work on and show here on the field."
Remembering who he is, and where he comes from, is never far from his mind.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners