Llego la salida — our departure has arrived.
That’s the most dramatic place to start Jake Anchia’s story, with three words spoken in Spanish before he was even born.
Anchia, a star catcher at Nova Southeastern University, hit .326 as a sophomore last year, leading the Sharks with 17 homers. One scout of a Major League Baseball team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Anchia is likely to be selected in the top 10 rounds in the 2018 MLB Draft.
But none of that would be possible had it not been for the events of May 26, 1980. Jake’s father, Miguel Anchia, was 11 years old and living in his native Cuba, when his mother, Silvia, pulled him out of school.
There was no time to pack. All they took was the clothes they had on — Cuba’s Fidel Castro kept the rest.
Jake’s father, his uncle Ariel, his grandmother Silvia and grandfather Joaquin boarded a 68-foot shrimp boat, named — fittingly enough — El Americano.
It was the Mariel boatlift, and there were 249 refugees crammed on that vessel, enduring violently choppy water, sea sickness, severe thirst and constant hunger during a treacherous voyage.
Cuban people are famous for their joy, their music, their dancing and story-telling. But the mood on El Americano was somber, eerily quiet and fearful.
Finally, after 18 hours at sea, a Coast Guard helicopter was spotted and roars of excitement were unleashed.
“Viva Cuba Libre!”
“Viva Estados Unidos!”
From those humble beginnings, Miguel Anchia availed himself to the American Dream. He married a Cuban-American woman, Beatriz, and they started a family — Jake and his younger sister Emily.
Miguel worked his way up to the rank of fire chief in Hialeah before retiring in April 2017, taking one weekend off and then starting a new job as deputy fire chief in Miami Beach.
He never got too far with baseball — playing only up to high school — but he passed on his love of the game to Jake, coaching him from age 6 to 14.
But Miguel taught Jake much more than baseball.
“My dad is an inspiration,” Jake said. “He came here not knowing any English. He lost his father when he was only 20. But he still worked hard to pursue the American Dream.
“If he could pull all that off, then I feel like I can do it without a problem.”
So far, that is proving to be the case.
At 6-1, 210 pounds with a strong arm and major power, Jake Anchia waited his turn at national baseball powerhouse Archbishop McCarthy. He didn’t become a starter until his senior year, but he led the Mavericks to a state title that season.
The next year, Anchia was NSU’s backup catcher behind Michael Hernandez, a respected veteran. But when Hernandez was sidelined by a broken finger during the NCAA Division II College World Series, Anchia took over and helped lead NSU to the first national baseball title in school history.
“Big stages have never been an issue with him,” NSU coach Greg Brown said of Anchia, who hit a 450-foot homer in the CWS. “Every time we saw him in high school, he was barreling balls up and making big plays behind the dish.
“Jake has that ability to rise up to a challenge. The game just comes natural to him.”
Brown believes Anchia has a strong chance of breaking the school record for highest draft spot. That distinction currently belongs to major-league pitcher Miles Mikolas, who was selected in the seventh round in 2009.
Anchia improved his draft stock this past summer, displaying power with six homers in the prestigious Cape Cod league.
“He has tools you just can’t teach,” Miguel Anchia said of his son, a business administration major. “We really believe his time has come as a player and as a young man.”
In other words, he has arrived. Ya llego.