After his Cuban team was eliminated in the World Baseball Classic, outfielder Frederich Cepeda thought he was getting a ride back to his hotel from a nice man with a full head of gelled, salt-and-pepper hair who identified himself as “Calvin Tower.”
The next thing he knew, a groggy Cepeda was waking up in a Greyhound bus that was speeding down Interstate 8 to the San Diego Padres spring-training facility in Peoria, Ariz.
Even more surprising, Cepeda was wearing the San Diego Padres uniform with his name on the back, and the “nice man with the fancy hair”—who turned out to be Padres General Manager Kevin Towers—“was trying to convince me that I'd grown up in the United States and said I was going to be the Padres' starting right fielder,” Cepeda said through interpreter Chico Esquela. “I think he put something funny in my Fresca.”
Towers denies trying to drug Cepeda and make him play for the Padres: “I don't know where he gets this cock and bull story—how would I know that you need gamma butyrolactone, sodium hydroxide and a Pyrex baking dish to cook up your own batch of prescription-caliber GHB in your own bathtub?” Towers told CityBeat.
Several of Cepeda's teammates reported similar stories: They accept a charitable offer from a quixotic man with a spiky coiffure who went by names including “Calvin Flowers” and “Kenny Powers.” He offers them a can of Fresca, a refreshing, low-calorie carbonated beverage that tastes of grapefruit, sunshine and unicorn tears.
The next thing the player knows, he's wearing a Padres uniform and his new friend is telling him that he's American and he's going to be playing for the Padres.
“I've never even heard of this team,” said Michel Enriquez, Cuba's third baseman. “I thought the team from fancy-hair-man's city was the Giants.”
Cepeda said he momentarily considered the offer, but then decided to return to his hometown of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.
“Hey, every Cuban dreams of playing for a real major-league team — but it never dawned on me to play for the Padres,” he said.
Cepeda was reminded that Cuba is an impoverished country, where the average salary is below $20 a month.
“Yes, but—the Padres?” Cepeda asked. “I mean, look at their roster. Cliff Floyd? Really? I'll go back to my uncle's chicken farm, thank you very much.”
For his part, Towers was adamant that he's happy with his team and that his interactions with the Cuban players were merely friendly chats.
“Look, why would I want a player like Cepeda when I have Scott Hairston?” Towers said. “Hairston almost batted .250 for us last year. With a few breaks here and there, he might have had 40 RBIs, not 31. And do you really think Cepeda would help us, with that long, powerful swing, that eagle eye at the plate, that—.”
And with that, Towers drifted off, sighing heavily. After several moments, he pulled out a Tony Gwynn baseball card, gazed at it wistfully, then snapped back to attention and adjusted the case of Fresca under his arm. “Anyway, I have to go. By the way, do you know if the Japanese team has left the country? I'm just, um, wondering—.”
This story was part of our April Fool's Day issue of 2009. Don't believe it.