A Cuban defector who signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a $7 million bonus in 1997, Arrojo became the expansion club’s ace and first All-Star in 1998 while posting a 14-12 record and 3.56 ERA in his first season. No Cuban had posted as many wins since Luis Tiant won 21 in 1978. But after a frustrating sophomore slump in 1999 (7-12, 5.18) Arrojo was sent to the Colorado Rockies with the Brewers’ Jeff Cirillo as part of a four-team deal that brought Vinny Castilla to Tampa Bay.
“It is easier to change cities than countries,” Arrojo told reporters. The son of a sugar cane worker, he had been a member of the Cuban National Team that took gold in the 1992 Olympics. One of the top pitchers in the country — Fidel Castro once called him the best of his generation — Arrojo won all ten of his starts in international competition but was paid just $11 a month.
As a member of the Cuban team, Arrojo made numerous trips to the U.S. — in fact, he was at Mile High Stadium when the Rockies unveiled their uniforms on July 4, 1992. Four years later, he decided to defect during a 1996 tournament in Albany, Georgia.