Outfielder Henry Urrutia said a weeklong trip back to his native Cuba, from where he fled five years ago for an opportunity to play in the major leagues, has motivated him entering a pivotal spring training with the Orioles.
"I feel pretty good, because sometimes you forget why you left," Urrutia said. "When I get back, you can remember that. Now, I feel emotionally strong. Now, I know I again why I'm here. It was pretty fun and productive."
The week he spent from Dec. 29 to Jan 4 in his hometown of Las Tunas was a long-awaited trip home to see his mother, father, siblings and friends, Urrutia said. He was allowed to go back by the Cuban embassy because he was not playing internationally at the time of his defection — he was suspended at the time for his first defection attempt in 2010.
It wasn't without hiccups, though. At the airport, they didn't know he'd already had clearance to return, and briefly attempted to send him back to America. He also had to lock himself in his house to get alone time with his family, such was the rush of people who wanted to see the returning ballplayer from America.
"People walking around and coming in and saying, 'Henry, Henry Henry! I read you on my cell phone,'" Urrutia said. "It's amazing because now I know that people never forgot me in my country. I have friends, but all of these people that I don't know, that I never met, come into my house and are telling me, 'Hey, we're proud of you because you now are playing on the best level in the world and are representing this city.' So, it's pretty nice, but if you want to be with your family for more time, you've got to be out of the house."
The trip home provided him with a boost after a difficult few seasons in the Orioles organization. He battled injury in 2014, and was productive at Triple-A Norfolk last year before a brief call-up to Baltimore. He played 10 games with the Orioles, and hit an Aug. 19 walk-off home run against the New York Mets.
He was the only position player on the 40-man roster at the Orioles' Ed Smith Stadium complex this week during the minor league pitching minicamp, which ends Wednesday. He played winter ball in Venezuela, and is working to put back on the 16 pounds he lost because of an illness there.
Urrutia hopes to put that back on and then some this month before spring training begins, when he hopes for more opportunities with the major league club.
"I know this is my chance," Urrutia said. "I want my chance to get my at-bats. In spring training last year, it was 25 at-bats. That's what I want, my chance to prove what I can do in the big leagues. I know I can help the team. I can do a good job in the big leagues, but I need the chance to prove it. My work here right now is looking to the future, to the big leagues. That's why I'm here, that's why I left my country."