The Long Walk: Iglesias journey from Cuba to the Sox

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The Long Walk: Iglesias journey from Cuba to the Sox

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA

He quietly shut the door behind him, knowing there was no going back once it clicked.

Admittedly, he didnt know much more beyond that.

Jose Iglesias walked down the hallway of the University of Alberta dorm toward the exit, his deliberately calm steps contrasting with the thoughts racing wildly through his mind.

Id like to say I was comfortable, but no, I was nervous because I didnt even know where I was going to go, he remembers.

There was a game that night, and Iglesias knew his coaches and teammates would be in their rooms for an afternoon nap. Leaving through the front door would look suspicious, though, and carrying luggage would be a clear giveaway.

Instead, he left the dorm through the back door with only the red shirt on his back, the pair of pants and shoes he was wearing, and a small amount of money in his wallet. He stepped outside in broad daylight, hopped into the car waiting for him, and drove away.

In that moment, he also left his life in Cuba behind him.

I was 18 at the time, he told CSNNE.com. To be honest with you, it was maybe the hardest decision I am going to make in my life. I think nothing is comparable to that.

Iglesias dream was not unlike that many of children he wanted to be a Major League Baseball player. But unlike those in the other countries, that opportunity was not available for the talented infielder growing up in Havana.

He wanted more more for himself and more for his family who once lived off a 10-a-month salary his father made as a factory worker.

A trip to Edmonton, Canada for the 2008 World Junior Championships would be the opportunity Iglesias needed. Just a teenager, he told his father he wanted to defect from Cuba. It was a chance for a better life at the risk of never seeing his relatives again.

His father agreed it was worth it.

When I looked around all the country and I saw those guys had been playing for many, many years and they have no future, they have nothing, Iglesias said. Thats when I started thinking, I need a better future for myself and for my family. Thats when I made the decision.

Iglesias boarded the plane with his teammates that summer, knowing it was the last time he would step foot on Cuban soil. He looked out the window as the plane took off, getting a glimpse of his country before he ascended into the sky. He watched the view below him and soaked it all in for a final glance.

It was a very sad moment, he recalled. When the plane went up, I said bye to my country to myself.

Iglesias hid his impending plan once he arrived in Canada. He suited up for the Cuban team and battled off pitches just like he battled conflicting feelings.

I played in a few games and I felt sad because I wanted to help the team, said the defensively savvy shortstop. I didnt want to leave my teammates, my manager. I didnt want to leave those guys. But when you make the decision that you think is the best for your career, my goal for playing the big leagues was to take care of my family. This was how I could.

The only other person who knew of Iglesias next move was his teammate, pitcher Noel Arguelles. The two planned to leave together.

Arguelles father lived in New York and traveled to Canada to pick up the pair at the dorm. From there, they drove to a hotel and strategized their next step. They began researching baseball agents online and found one who represented several other Cuban players.

Go to the Canadian border and request political asylum, the agent suggested.

Desperate for a better life, the teenager in the red shirt took the advice.

There were a lot of cars, a lot of trucks, Iglesias recalled. Its pretty much like a toll. But Im walking. Everybody was looking at us like, What are they doing? Of course, I was scared because I didnt even know how it worked. I didnt even imagine what it looked like.

I walked to the border and the police said, Stop! Stop! Stop! We were still walking because I didnt even know what he was saying. He said Stop! Stop! Stop! again.

I think pretty much the first word I learned in English was political asylum.

Iglesias and Arguelles were able to communicate their request to the border patrol and were escorted to an office where they stayed for 15 hours as officials sorted out everything. They had been told their paperwork would be processed and they would be able to enter the United States, but the language barrier and uncertainty of the situation was still unsettling.

They told us, Dont worry about it, everythings going to be alright. Its just a process, Iglesias said. I felt more relaxed when they talked to us like that, but of course I thought they could send us back to Cuba. At that time, Im not even understanding whats going on. Im not even understanding what hes saying.

As assured, Iglesias and his teammate were permitted to leave Canada and flew to New York City, where Iglesias lived with Arguelles father for over two weeks. He called home to his family, who told him to take care of himself and surround himself with positive people.

Relax, he promised them. Ill be alright.

From New York, Iglesias traveled to Miami and eventually moved to the Dominican Republic, where he spent around nine months playing baseball. The Boston Red Sox took interest in him and signed him to a four-year Major League contract worth 8.25 million (including a 6 million signing bonus) in 2009.

In 2010 Iglesias played 13 games for the Lowell Spinners and 57 for the Portland Sea Dogs, where he batted .285. This year he appeared in 101 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox (.235 BA, 84 hits, 31 RBIs, 12 stolen bases). On May 8, he made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox. He was called up by the team again in September and has played in nine games, including Monday nights win over the Baltimore Orioles in which he singled in his only at bat.

Iglesias life has fast-forwarded from fleeing a dorm room in Canada with no clear game plan to inking a multi-year deal with one of the most historic organizations in all of sports.

As he stands in the Red Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park, he takes it all in. His teammates, Red Sox Nation, the culture of the organization, he wants to be part of everything.

My life has changed a lot. Its a big difference, he said. But I just want to be simple and make things simple and try to learn every single day something new. For example, last year I didnt even know where I was at or whats this, whats that. The language, the culture was different. I feel every year, every day, I feel way comfortable.

I think about every night how I have to learn. I have to learn English. I need to learn about this country because its the country Im in right now. This is my country. Those guys, they dont speak Spanish. They speak some, but they dont really know it. I want to speak English with them because its the language of the country.

Iglesias transition to the United States was aided by the support he received from those in the Red Sox organization, which helped his family in Cuba feel more comfortable with his decision. Everybody, all of them, take care of me, he said of the Red Sox.

After spending two years in the country without his family, he welcomed two additions to his home in 2011. Earlier this year, Iglesias father was able to join him in the United States by way of his brother in Mexico. Around the same time, Iglesias became the proud father of a son, Jose Iglesias, Junior.

He is so beautiful, I love him, Iglesias gushed, All of my family was in Cuba. If I can make my own family, why not? Ive got everything that I need to take care of him.

He added with a smile, He was born here. He is American.

Three years ago, an 18 year old in Cuba told his father he wanted to defect. Today the teenager is a now father himself playing Major League baseball working toward a better life for his own son and the family that supported his decision to leave.

I appreciate everything, he said. I sacrificed too much in my life. A lot. I sacrificed a lot. I just want to say thank you every day. Whatever happens in the game happens. You have to enjoy life, do your best, and I learned from all my decisions. They made me grow up quicker.

He leans against his locker, where a red warm up jersey hangs among his clothing. The color he wore when he escaped his past is now the color he wears to create a new future.

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.com!JCameratoNBA.

Sunday, July 24: Dominic Moore mulls NHL offers

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Sunday, July 24: Dominic Moore mulls NHL offers

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while marveling at how good the Justice League and Wonder Woman trailers were this weekend.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has veteran center Dominic Moore mulling a couple of offers as he looks for an NHL contract for next season.

*Jordan Eberle joined Canadian sports radio, and agreed that something needed to change with the Oilers after continually missing the playoffs.

*I will miss Jim Prior’s trademark “The Teams are ready, so let’s play hockey!” open to every game as a PA announcer, and I’ll miss his warm personality around the rink. It’s a sad day for the BU hockey program.

*The Arizona Coyotes continue to put together a very interesting D-men picture by signing Luke Schenn to a two-year contract. For my money, Schenn has long been one of the most overrated players in the NHL.

*The Hockey News’ Mike Brophy has some thoughts and observations about the NHL offseason as it continues to wind on.

*Good piece by FOH (Friend of Haggs) Dave Stubbs on Andrei Markov and his candid thoughts on everything from the Montreal traffic to the PK Subban/Shea Weber trade.

*Here’s a spot to track the travels and stories of the Pittsburgh Penguins amid their summer with the Stanley Cup.

*For something completely different: as mentioned above, here is the trailer for the Justice League that shows a much lighter, better touch with what should be a fun movie to watch. Hopefully this means it won’t be another pretty-looking, Zack Snyder funeral dirge.

 

Kelly ready for his new role as a Red Sox reliever

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Kelly ready for his new role as a Red Sox reliever

BOSTON -- He had to make a longer trip than the rest of his team to Fenway Park for Sunday’s game, but Joe Kelly was more than happy when he got the call at midnight that he was leaving Columbus before his Pawtucket teammates so he could pitch in Boston again.

The righty rejoins the Red Sox for the first time as a reliever since Boston acquired him from St. Louis in the John Lackey trade in 2014. Kelly is expected to not only fill the vacancy left by Heath Hembree -- who was demoted to Triple-A after the game Saturday -- but to lighten the workload on Matt Barnes, Brad Ziegler and other relievers since key pieces of the bullpen went on the disabled list.

And the righty said he’s ready for his new role.

“My body and arm got ready a lot quicker than it would of if I was starting,” Kelly said. “It’s weird to see how your body feels on different days when you still have to get in the game. As a starter, you only have to prepare for that fifth day and if your body doesn’t feel that great in between those days it’s all right.”

Kelly’s apprehensions about pitching on consecutive days might sound like a cause for concern, but he also explained that he’s put himself through the ringer in to be in a position to succeed. He's also had good results at Pawtucket (no runs allowed in five relief innings with one walk and nine strikeouts) after compiling an 8.46 ERA in six starts this season in Boston.

“Out of the bullpen it was good to see different situations,” Kelly said. “[Sometimes I would] get a workout in before the game and go out and pitch that game just to see how I would respond. Pretty much did all the different type of scenarios to see where my arm and body was at.”

That preparation not only addresses the physical toll relieving can take, but also the mental toll.

So, now Kelly should be able to hop into any situation if he’s has worse command than he expects -- of which he noted an improvement.

“Yeah the command feels good right now for the most part with my secondary pitches,” Kelly said. “There hasn’t been a game yet where I’ve had a chance to throw more than two or three of them. For the most part, I’m getting one or two of the off-speed pitches over for a strike.

“And location of the fastball has been pretty good. Not exactly where I maybe where I want it to be, but for the most part it’s been if I want to miss it to a side of the plate, it’s been on that site.”

And now with the move to the bullpen, Kelly really only needs one good off-speed pitch to pair with his five-alarm fastball.

Given he has three to turn to -- including his curve that he said has reached 86 mph -- Kelly should be able to find more success in his shortened appearances.

“I’ve been using slider and curveball for the most part,” Kelly said. “Curveballs to lefties, but recently I’ve been getting some success on curveballs to righties because the velocity has been a little bit higher. Whatever pitch is working the best for me that day -- curveball, slider, changeup -- that’s what I’m probably going to use out there in the game.”

With that advantage Kelly is hunting for strikeouts now more than ever.

He went as far to say he’ll either strike a guy out or walk the batter if he enters the game with a runner on third in order to save the run.
 
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t trying to strike everyone out as a reliever now,” Kelly said.

The Red Sox hope he won’t work to many 3-and-2 counts in that scenario.