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.