A world of his own

February 8, 2014, 12:31 PM

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IT IS WELL past noon in the mansion they call the American Dream House, and the owner has yet to wake up. Half a dozen friends and relatives sit under an imported Italian chandelier in the living room, watching the hours pass on a silver-plated clock, waiting for Aroldis Chapman to come downstairs. House rules dictate that nobody disturbs him; it is Chapman's $30 million contract that paid for this house, and it is his singular left arm that brought his family from a coastal province in Cuba to the manicured suburbs of Florida's gold coast, where nothing is quite as they expected.

"We are usually just sitting here, trying to pass the hours," says Maria Caridad, his mother, speaking in Spanish as the clock closes in on 1 p.m. She mops the kitchen floor even though a crew of six housecleaners performed the same chore a few days earlier. She turns on some salsa music and cooks pigs' feet on the kitchen stove, leaning over the pot to inhale the familiar smell. "This reminds me of Cuba," she says. "Of home."

Across the living room, her husband and Aroldis' father, Juan Alberto, turns the TV to Channel 374, the only Spanish-language station available on their deluxe cable package. One of Chapman's assistants has been teaching Juan Alberto some English, hoping to ease the 74-year-old's transition to the United States, but the lessons fail to solve a bigger problem. "I'm too old to learn, and there's no one here I need to talk to anyway," he says, so he settles into the recliner for his third Cuban soap opera of the day.

Every new immigrant in this household has developed an antidote to boredom, and for Aroldis, it is sleep. Midday gives way to early afternoon. Early afternoon turns toward dusk. His parents move outside to sit by the swimming pool, where they study the ornate drapes of his second-story bedroom for any sign of movement. Some days during the offseason, the Reds' 25-year-old closer stays in his room until sunset, sleeping, watching movies or just throwing a racquetball against his bedroom wall.

Finally, a few minutes before 4 p.m., the curtains lift and Chapman descends the spiral staircase to the pool deck. He wears sandals, sunglasses and a tank top obscured by heavy gold chains. He lights a Marlboro Red cigarette and flops down onto an all-weather mattress near the pool.

"Why so late like this?" Maria Caridad asks. "Why all this sleeping?"

"There's nothing else to do," he says.

This is the irony of Chapman's life in the United States and a dilemma familiar to many Cuban athletes: He spent so much time and energy working to reach this place that he rarely considered what it would mean to finally arrive -- a feeling of destiny and displacement all at once.

Chapman defected from Cuba in July 2009, signed with the Reds the following January and bought this $1.8 million offseason home in Davie, Fla., in 2011 mainly because it reminded him of American mansions he had seen on TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: a grand entry hall, oil paintings, an eight-seat movie theater and a five-car garage, all within an hour's drive of Miami. It's close enough to a Cuban community but removed from the temptations of South Beach. "My first home," he says, gesturing toward the raised ceilings and the 20-foot Christmas tree. "Not so bad." But he sometimes gets lost amid Davie's identical streets and man-made canals, and he swims barely well enough to enjoy his own pool. The hallway lamps still bear their price tags. The books in his personal library are not only titled in unfamiliar English but are hollowed and fake, bought by his home designer at World Market for $5.99 each.

Sometimes Chapman walks through the quiet halls of his five-bedroom, six-bath mansion and finds himself missing the humble three-room house, with its leaky ceiling and cracked walls, where he grew up -- missing the living room crowded with relatives, the friends, noise, gossip, chaos and uncertainty. "There is my life in Cuba and my life in America, the old life and the new life, and almost nothing about them is the same," he says.

Even his relationship with baseball, the game that brought him here, has begun to change since he abandoned his Cuban national team at a tournament in the Netherlands, walking out of his hotel with nothing but a passport and a pack of cigarettes to begin his slow escape to the United States. "I get bored of watching baseball on TV," he says. "It's repetitive to me." So instead of practicing his pitching during the offseason, he spends time in the batting cages at a nearby school. The man who threw the fastest recorded pitch in major league history -- clocked at 105 mph in a 2010 game -- now imagines what it would be like to play first base.

His mother brings him breakfast -- meat and beans, with a glass of mango juice -- by the pool as he lights another cigarette. He stares out at his waterfall and palm trees and a man-made pond in the distance. "Life here is easy," he says. "This is fat living, and that's nice. But sometimes I miss the craziness. That's the problem I'm trying to solve."