In just under a month (January 15), the international free agent signing period will begin again. This will allow teams to lock up eligible international talent to help supplement their farm system. Last year, the White Sox signed eight international free agents, highlighted by Yoelquis Cespedes and – today’s interviewee – Norge Vera.
Vera signed for $1.5M in last year’s signing class out of Cuba. He’s the 6’4″ son of Norge Luis Vera, who played 17 seasons in the Cuban Serie Nacional. Marco Paddy, White Sox Special Assistant to the General Manager – International Operations, described Vera as “a right-handed pitcher with an outstanding fastball and who has shown promising secondary pitches” when Vera signed with the team.
Vera spent the 2021 season playing in the Dominican Summer League (DSL), where he dominated the competition. In 8 games (7 starts), Vera threw 19 innings, gave up 0 earned runs, struck out 34 batters (49.3% strikeout rate), and walked just 5 (7.2% walk rate).
Norge was kind enough to take the time out to answer a few of our questions to help Sox fans get to know him a bit better. Keep reading to learn about Vera, his life in Cuba, his relationship with Jose Contreras, why he was excited to sign with the White Sox, and much more!
To start, tell the readers about yourself. When did you start playing baseball, when did you decide that you wanted to make a career out of the game, and why did you decide to be a pitcher?
Empecé en la pelota a los 8 años, pero no fue mi primer deporte. Me anoté yo solo en aquel momento sin saber casi que era. Recuerdo que mi papa jugabas y yo iba al estadio a verlo lanzar, pero cómo era muy pequeño no le prestaba mucha atención a lo que hacía. Pero fueron pasando los años y me gusto cada vez más lo q hacía. Al principio me gustaba más ser bateador pero no me fue bien, ya cuando tenía como 12 años me dediqué solo a ser pitcher.
Translation: I started playing baseball when I was 8 years old, but it wasn’t my first sport. I signed up [for baseball] by myself without knowing much about it. I remember going to the stadium to watch my dad pitch, but because I was very young, I didn’t pay too much attention to him playing at the time. However, as the years passed, I liked [baseball] more and more.
At first, I liked hitting more, but I wasn’t very good. When I was 12 years old, I became dedicated to being a pitcher.
You grew up in Cuba. What is your favorite part about your life in Cuba? Do you have close friends and family who you spend a lot of time with?
Mi parte favorita era de mi provincia, una playa que se llama Siboney que tenía varios familiares hay y siempre me gustaba ir a quedarme. Los familiares y amigos con los que pasaba el tiempo están todos en Cuba.
Translation: My favorite part [about life in Cuba] is a beach named Siboney in my province. Many of my family members are there, and I always like to stay with them. All of my family and friends that I spend time with are in Cuba.
In February 2021, you signed with the White Sox as an International Free Agent. What was that process like for you – was it exciting or stressful? When did you decide you wanted to play for the White Sox?
Mi firma fue un proceso muy bonito y estresante a la vez, pero me gusto mucho firmar para la organización de Chicago White Sox ya tiene varios jugadores cubanos lo cual hace sentirse más cómodo.
Translation: My signing [with the organization] was a very wonderful and stressful process at the same time. However, I really liked signing with the Chicago White Sox organization because they already have several Cuban players, which makes me feel more comfortable.
Who were some of your idols as you were growing up? Are there certain baseball players you try to model in the way you pitch?
De niño mi ídolo era Alexei Bell, ahora sigo a varios lanzadores con los cuales me identifico y me gusta el trabajo que hacen como Jacob deGrom, Shohei Ohtani y Gerrit Cole.
Translation: When I was a kid, my idol was [Cuban Outfielder] Alexei Bell. Now, I follow several pitchers who I identify with and like the work that they do: Jacob DeGrom, Shohei Ohtani, and Gerrit Cole.
(Editor’s Note: Alexei Bell spent 14 seasons playing in the Cuban Serie Nacional. He has a career .319/.417/.547 slash line in 14 seasons there and spent one season playing for the minor league Texas Rangers.)
Your father played 17 seasons with Santiago de Cuba in the Cuban Serie Nacional. You also played one season for Santiago de Cuba. What was your experience with the team like?
Bueno aprendí mucho durante la temporada que lancé en cuba ya que entré con apenas 17 años y lanzar a ese nivel fue algo muy emocionante, compartir con peloteros que llevaban años jugando incluso en el equipo Cuba. Me ayudaron mucho en el corto tiempo que estuve hay con ellos y por eso estoy agradecido.
Translation: Well, I learned a lot during the season I pitched with Cuba since I was just 17 years old at the time. Pitching at that level was very exciting for me, as was playing with teammates who had already been playing for years on the Cuban team. They taught me a lot in the short time I was with them, and I am grateful for that.
Tell us about your relationship with José Contreras. How has he helped you throughout your baseball career, and what have you learned from him?
Bueno a Contreras lo conocí en persona hace poco en dominicana cuando jugaba la Dominican Summer League, aunque ya había hablado con el tiempo antes de firmar. En dominicana me ayudo a hacer par de ajustes que me hacían falta y luego cuando llegue aquí en EEUU estuve entrenando un mes con él para seguir trabajando y mejorar, no solo me ayudo en la pelota si no también en el entorno fuera de ella y de cómo era la vida aquí en EEUU. Nadie mejor para hacerlo que el ya que fue como un padre y tan poco tiempo.
Translation: Well, I met [José] Contreras in person recently when I was playing in the Dominican Summer League, although I had spoken with him at times before my signing. In the Dominican, he helped me make a couple of adjustments that I needed to, and when I got to the United States, I trained with him for a month to continue working and improving. Not only did he help me with baseball, but also in the environment outside of baseball and how to understand what life is like here in the United States.
There is no one better to help me; he is already like a father to me in so little time.
You will likely play your first game of professional baseball in the United States next season. Are you nervous? What do you believe will be the best – and the most difficult – parts of living in the United States?
Bueno la verdad estoy muy emocionado y quisiera que ya llegara el momento de demostrar mi talento aquí en los EEUU ya que es lo que me gusta. De vivir aquí en EEUU solo pienso que debería acostumbrarme y cuando dios quiera también poder tener a mis padres conmigo ya que me hacen mucha falta.
Translation: Well, the truth is I am very excited for the time to arrive for me to display my talents here in the United States; that is what I really like to do. I think I will get used to living here in the United States. God willing, I want to have my parents with me as well, as I need them a lot in my life.
You’re only 21 years old but have a lot of experience in baseball. What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you as you have faced challenges? How do you stay motivated when you face challenges?
Bueno a mi corta edad el mejor consejo lo he recibido de quien lo tenía que recibir, mi padre quien me ha apollado siempre desde que tome la decisión de entrar al mejor sistema de béisbol del mundo. Mantenerme siempre enfocado en mi trabajo, no dejarme influenciar por las malas vibras y confiar en mí mismo, es lo más importante.
Translation: Well, at my young age, the best advice I have received was from my father. He has always supported and cheered for me since I made the decision to join the best baseball system in the world. He told me to always remain focused on my work, not be influenced by bad vibes, and – the most important thing – to trust myself.
On behalf of the entire Sox On 35th team, I’d like to thank Norge for taking the time to answer these questions and for giving White Sox fans a chance to get to know him a bit better. I’d also like to thank good friends of the page, Fernando Rendon and Ryan Piontek, for taking the time to assist in our translation to ensure we were capturing Norge’s thoughts in the way he had intended.
As we mentioned in the interview, Vera will likely make his state-side debut sometime in 2022. At such a young age, he is displaying a lot of maturity in doing something that certainly isn’t easy. That alone makes him really easy to root for – I know we will all be watching his development closely. We wish him the best of luck.
You can follow Norge on Instagram @vera_02_sox. Give him a follow and your best wishes!
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Featured Photo: Norge Vera (@vera_02_sox) / Instagram