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.

Hogan on facing his ex-Bills teammates: ‘Like it’s any other game’

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Hogan on facing his ex-Bills teammates: ‘Like it’s any other game’

FOXBORO – Sunday isn’t some “I’ll show them!” game for Chris Hogan. The Buffalo Bills didn’t give up on Hogan last March. They just weren’t going to extend themselves financially the way the Patriots did.

Hogan, a restricted free agent, was lured to New England by the team’s three-year, $12 million contract offer that had $7.5 million guaranteed. Buffalo, which had no cap space, made it clear before the deadline to match the Patriots offer even expired that they couldn’t keep Hogan.

So now, Buffalo enters Sunday’s game without injured wideouts Sammy Watkins and Greg Salas and must resign itself to watching Hogan run around as an opponent.

“I’m just preparing for the game just like it’s any other game,” Hogan said Friday when asked about the matchup. “[Division] opponent so it’s a big game for us. They’re going to come in here pretty excited. There’s going to be a lot of intensity out there.

“Those guys [the Bills] are all my friends still, but we’re playing a game now,” said Hogan. “Once that whistle blows, 60 minutes, I’m going to be playing football. Afterwards we can talk and do all that. My focus is on doing my job and taking advantage of all my opportunities on Sunday.”

Earlier this week, Rex Ryan spoke glowingly of Hogan, who has eight catches for 122 yards and a touchdown so far.

“It was definitely tough to lose him,” Ryan said Wednesday on a conference call. “We didn’t want to. The thing about Chris is he’s a tough guy, he’s a good receiver and things, but the thing that also impressed me is this guy, he did everything that was asked of him. From being a special-teams player and obviously being a wideout, being in the slot, being outside.”

Hogan has eight catches for 122 yards and a touchdown so far.

“It doesn’t surprise me the type of success he’s having, because he’s really a good football player,” said Ryan. “And when you look at him as an athlete, here’s a big-time lacrosse player who then decides he’s going to play one year of football [in college] and now is in the National Football League. He’s a pretty special talent.”

Hogan acknowledged Ryan’s praise, saying, “Anytime someone pays you a compliment, as a head coach in this league, you obviously take that. That meant a lot to me, especially coming from him. I will be forever grateful to them, that organization. They gave me my first chance. That’s where I really kind of made my, started my career. I was there for four years. I established a lot of relationships with those guys and to this day still do. I will always look back on my career and that’s where I started.”

Bruins looking forward to getting World Cup teammates, coach back

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Bruins looking forward to getting World Cup teammates, coach back

BRIGHTON, Mass. – With the World Cup of Hockey and Team Canada crowned as champions, the final few Bruins players involved in the international hockey tournament will be filtering back into regular training camp.

It was a brilliant tourney for Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, especially while forming the World Cup’s best forward line with Sidney Crosby. Marchand was one of the leading scorers and had the clutch game-winner in the decisive game.

As a line they combined for a ridiculous 25 points in six games and it was Marchand who scored a couple of the biggest goals in the biggest games against Russia and Team Europe.

“They did it all of last season for us, so I’m not shocked. They played well throughout the entire time they played there, so I’m really happy for them,” said Ryan Spooner. “It’s been kind of a weird camp. We’ve been missing a lot of guys, and to get all of those guys back is huge. They’re the leaders of the team, so to get them back is good.

“Marchand around the room is a funny guy, so he’s definitely missed. We miss them all.”

Zdeno Chara was a force for the surprising rag-tag group of players on Team Europe and led them to the best-of-three final series against Team Canada. Now that it’s over, the B’s teammates are looking forward to all three joining fellow World Cup participants Tuukka Rask, David Pastrnak and David Backes at camp probably at some point next week.

“It does [feel like training camp], but it will be nice to get those guys back,” said Adam McQuaid. “They are big parts of this team. We’re looking forward to having those guys back, for sure.”

That also includes getting their coach, Claude Julien, back as well after missing his presence while he served behind the Canadian bench with Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz. He’ll be rejoining the Bruins over the next couple of days, and getting through preseason road games against Detroit and Philadelphia before making some tough decisions on cuts at main training camp.

That’s when things will officially start getting back to normal for a training camp that’s felt like something was a little missing over the first few weeks of getting ready for the season.