The letters D-F-A can mean very different things in different industries. It could be a lovely group of hard working people who provide a staple of life, The Dairy Farmers of America.
Those letters could make your head spin if they refer to the abstract mathematical concept called Deterministic Finite Automaton. Apparently it is often implemented in hardware and software.
Or, if you are a baseball player, those letters when strung together will make you sad. They stand for designated for assignment. Basically you have been cut and just hope another team is interested in you. If not, then you are often sent back to the minor leagues.
Such was the case with Adolis Garcia. He was DFA’d twice! Surprising for a guy who was a rising star on the Cuban National Team. He defected in 2016 and landed in St. Louis. In 21 games for the Cards he hit just .118. So on Dec. 18, 2019 he was designated for assignment.
Just three days later he was traded
to your Texas Rangers for cash considerations. The Cardinals got something in exchange for him, and the Rangers got a player they hoped would live up to the potential he had shown on the Cuban National Team.
A month later he was at a mini-camp with the Rangers, and he was hitting lasers all over the yard. Manager Chris Woodward was impressed with what he saw and heard. As with some of the great hitters, the ball sounded different coming off his bat. “I haven’t seen him play a lot, but I have been impressed with what I have seen here.” Woody said after the mini camp.
Then the 2020 season happened. Perhaps he got lost in the shuffle of the pandemic and a shortened season and an alternate training site, but Garcia got only seven big league plate appearances last year. And in January of this year he was DFA’d by the Rangers. They could not work out a trade, so he accepted a minor league assignment and just kept working toward his dream.
“He never sulked, never pouted,” marveled Woody.
Then he came to spring training and turned heads. Woody remembers telling bench coach Don Wakamatsu, “He looks like a superstar. He is built like a superstar. He’s playing like a superstar. Maybe it’s just an opportunity this kid needs. We might be onto something.” Still, at the end of spring training he got bad news. He was not DFA’d, but he was to start his season at the alternate sight and then in the minor leagues.
When Ronald Guzman got hurt the door opened for Garcia. He did not just walk through the door, he busted the door off its hinges. Perhaps he was just following in the footsteps of one of his best friends. You see, his roommate in the Cardinals organization was fellow Cuban Randy Arozarena. After Arozarena was traded from the Cardinals to the Rays, all he did was set the MLB record for home runs in a single postseason with 10. “I was surprised when he was traded away,” Garcia told MLB Network. “But I was motivated to have the same kind of success that he had.”
Garcia’s first couple of weeks were downright mythological. I cannot swear that he didn’t grab a piece of wood from that broken door frame, fashion a bat out of it and use said bat to assault major league pitching. During his first two weeks in the big leagues Garcia hit three go-ahead home runs, he robbed Shohei Ohtani of a home run and used his cannon of a right arm to gun down a would-be go-ahead run at the plate.
He has done it all with a confidence and a swagger that has captured the attention of Major League Baseball. He flips his bat, he celebrates while he rounds the bases and he shares all of that emotion with his teammates. This may break some of the unwritten rules of baseball, but Garcia is not concerned.
“I am Cuban,” Adolis told my colleague Emily Jones. “Most Cubans are very emotional. I know I have a swagger. I just love the game of baseball, and the game brings that out of me.”
Even his “old school” manager agrees. “It’s a different style of game,” Woody said. “In different cultures that is celebrated. He’s not trying to show anybody up. He’s not trying to disrespect anybody. He is excited to hit a home run in the Major Leagues and give his team a chance to win. I’m all about that, man.”
Garcia will have ups and downs throughout the season. But by the end of the year there may be a three-letter acronym associated with his name again.
Not DFA, rather, ROY. That is, Rookie of the Year.