Cruz bounces back, with the help of family and, maybe, faith

Cruz bounces back, with the help of family and, maybe, faith July 14, 2014

There is a reason sports fans see so many media images of professional athletes wearing those omnipresent Beats headphones in locker rooms.

Most athletes these days use music as a way to get pumped up before games and then to cool down afterwards. The problem, of course, is that the typical locker room is going to have a lot of trouble coming up with a common play list for what will end up at high volume on the big speakers. Techno, rap, country, heavy metal and old-school R&B don’t mix all that well. Thus, many athletes crank things up on headphones.

However, there are stars who have earned enough respect, veterans who have enough clout, that they get to play their music on their own sound systems at their lockers or even over the house systems in the weight room. Other players cut them some slack, because they’ve earned it (or they demand it). To one degree or another, everyone else in the room is going to know that this athlete needs that music. Often it’s a symbolic thing, a link to particular culture or life experience. And that’s that.

Thus, I noted with interest the following reference (a passing reference, with no follow-up information) in a Baltimore Sun article about the new shooting star in the Orioles locker room — slugger Nelson Cruz.

Cruz quickly has become a part of the Orioles family in Baltimore.

He appreciates that his teammates let him play his Christian music in the workout room, even though O’Day joked that his singing is lacking. Cruz’s Twitter feed includes photos of him and fellow Latin players, like Ubaldo Jimenez, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, out at dinner together on the road.

Now that’s interesting. There are some high-profile religious believers in that locker room (another former Texas Rangers slugger, Chris Davis, leaps to mind), but I had no idea that Christian faith played a role in the dramatic up-and-down drama surrounding Cruz. I wanted to know more about that. Honest, he cranks up Christian music in the team weight room? Outrageous.

I still want to know more about that. Even after yet another giant Sun feature on Cruz that ran Sunday on A1, instead of the sports page.

Why would a faith-angle matter? Well, for starters Cruz has lived a rather complex moral life in recent years. The story ran under this complex double-decker headline:

After a tumultuous year, red-hot Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz has never been happier

Though drug scandal remains part of his story, Cruz is beloved by fans, teammates as he readies for All-Star Game

So if Cruz is a man of faith, surely the Sun team is going to ask him some questions about how his admitted past use of performance-enhancing drugs fits into that picture. Right?

Apparently not.

The story opened like this:

Nelson Cruz presents a deep rooting dilemma for the modern baseball fan.

Is the Orioles outfielder the well-mannered son of teachers who built himself into a slugger step by painstaking step? In this version of the story, Cruz is the perfect baseball hero — a humble guy from the northwest coast of the Dominican Republic with Popeye forearms and a beatific countenance, one who belts home runs at a league-leading pace and still takes time to say hello to his young fans.

Or is he just another in the stained mass of baseball stars who seemingly took the easy way out by turning to performance-enhancing drugs? In that narrative, his 2013 suspension for drug use looms over everything else, always ready to bubble to the surface. …

Perhaps the truth encompasses all of the above. That’s why Cruz is among the most intriguing stories in his sport as he prepares to start at designated hitter for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Ask the man himself and he’ll tell you he’s the same considerate family guy and dogged worker his parents raised, a person who owns up to his mistakes but refuses to be derailed by them.

What is the source of his perspective on these issues, on his marriage, on his life as a father? What is he thinking when fans in ballparks on the road curse him and accuse him of being a fraud?

It’s not a subject he relishes discussing. Cruz’s words become halting, his gaze distant as he answers questions about his 50-game suspension. The ubiquitous smile is nowhere to be found.

“I know what I did and what I didn’t do,” he says. “So it’s something I have to live with. The people who care and the people who really love me, they know. They know who I really am.”

The episode pained his close-knit family. “Our hearts were broken,” says his father, Nelson Cruz Sr., in Spanish. “We suffered a lot. We worried. We asked God why.”

Well, if you wanted to know more about the role of faith in this close-knit family and its response to this scandal, that’s it: “We asked God why.”

This long, long, long feature literally never asks a single factual question about the role of faith in the life of this complex superstar. Over and over, readers are told that the key to Cruz is the family ties that bind and strengthen him. Any facts to report there? Are they Catholics? Contemporary Christian music-loving Pentecostal believers?

Apparently nothing important to learn here — which is normal when the Sun sports team faces a question about religious faith. These folks just don’t get it.

Late in the story there is one other tiny hint, for those paying attention.

When Cruz finally signed a one-year, $8-million deal with the Orioles in late February, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

But teammates, including several who’d spoken out strongly against drug use, crowded into Cruz’s introductory press conference to show their support. He was touched by the gesture and by the immediate embrace of Orioles fans, who serenaded him with “Cruuuz” chants on Opening Day.

One of the strongest, most public critics of PEDs was, and is, Davis — who bats right behind Cruz. Davis has struggled at times this year and, if you watch his interactions with Cruz, it’s clear that they have become pretty close, when it would have been easy for there to be tensions between them.

So has anything in particular helped bring some healing and forgiveness there?

Just asking.

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