Francisco Cordero kept clicking play. It was late at night on June 26, 2012, and the man the Reds had trusted for years as their closer was up watching a clip of Aroldis Chapman, the man they trusted now. With two strikes and two outs, Chapman threw a collarbone-high fastball past the Milwaukee Brewers pinch-hitter. Chapman works quickly on the mound, limiting his expressions to either licking his teeth or biting his lip. Every once in a while, he’ll do both. But this time, he decided to celebrate. As an umpire indicated the final out, Chapman took two long steps forward, and on the third, descended into a wobbly double-somersault.
By the time he reached the high-five line, Chapman had returned to his normal pose, which meant looking about as engaged as the last guy off the bench. Elsewhere in baseball, however, those somersaults continued to turn. The game’s killjoys began declaiming about the lack of professionalism. But in private, at least, the players were delighted. Cordero, who had migrated to the Toronto Blue Jays, heard about the somersaults from Juan Francisco, another ex-Red. Did you see what Chapman just did? Francisco texted. Cordero and his kids quickly pulled up the video on their home computer—then watched it again and again.
“Everyone was on the ground laughing,” Cordero remembers. “If it was me, I’d never do it. But I think it’s funny.”
He wasn’t the only one. Perhaps because it was so charming and unexpected, that double-somersault underlined how little we know about the Reds’ Cuban import. So I asked the team for access to do the definitive post-somersault profile of Aroldis, the hope being that an interview with the enigmatic pitcher might clear up some of the mystery, or at least humanize him. But the Reds said no. Emphatically. It seemed a little strange, given that ESPN’s Grantland had labeled them “the most anonymous great team in recent memory.” But no sweat, I thought; there had been so many trades lately, I could do the story by reaching out to Chapman’s former teammates.