Jose Contreras reunited with his wife and two daughters Tuesday night, one day after his family defected from Cuba and nearly 21 months after the New York Yankees pitcher escaped the island nation.
Contreras traveled to Florida from Baltimore to meet his wife Miriam and daughters Naylan, 11, and Naylenis, 3.
“My dream was to pitch for the Yankees in a World Series. Now that my family is here, I’m complete,” Contreras said through Yankees interpreter Leo Astacio during a news conference outside a Miami Beach hotel.
Contreras was reunited with his family shortly before 11 p.m. on the way from Miami International Airport to the hotel, according to his agent, Jaime Torres.
Contreras left the airport in a black stretch SUV limousine, then talked by cell phone with his family, which had gotten delayed in traffic. About one mile outside the airport, Contreras met his family, which then transferred to his vehicle along with Torres, the agent said.
“I thought I would never see him again,” Miriam Contreras said at the news conference, held next to a fountain, outside a hotel lobby.
When Contreras was first told his family had left Cuba, he was dubious.
“I didn’t believe them, because they had done that in the past,” he said without specifying who broke the news to him. “Thank God they’re here.”
Contreras, a former star on Cuba’s national team, defected in October 2002. He has been inconsistent with the Yankees, who earlier this year sent him to the minor leagues for a stretch.
“I think I’m going to be a lot more comfortable now, a lot more tranquil,” he said.
After he established residency in Nicaragua and became a free agent, the Yankees signed him to a $32 million, four-year contract, creating big expectations in New York.
“It’s spectacular news,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said before Tuesday night’s 10-4 win at Baltimore.
Contreras’ family was among a group of 21 Cubans that left on a 31-foot boat Sunday evening, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Robert Montemayor said.
The group was captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents on Big Pine Key at 5:15 a.m. Monday, Montemayor said, then transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody early Tuesday morning. Under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are generally permitted to stay, while those caught at sea are usually taken back.
The family, looking tired but otherwise seemingly in good health, was processed and interviewed by immigration agents, then examined by Miami-Dade County medical officials before being released into Torres’ custody around 6:40 p.m.
“This is their dream come true,” Torres said.
Nicaragua twice granted Contreras’ family visas, but the Cuban government denied permission for his relatives to leave the island. In late 2002, Contreras’ family was informed that it would have to wait five years for a document required to leave.
“Her actions show how badly she wants to be here,” Torres said of Contreras’ wife.
While Contreras kept in contact with his family, the separation was often mentioned as a reason the ace pitcher might have struggled since reaching the majors.
Contreras is 4-3 with a 6.18 ERA in 11 starts this year. He was scheduled to make his next start Saturday at Yankee Stadium against the New York Mets.
“We all need so much support in this game, and a lot of comes from people outside the park,” Torre said. “He had really his home and four walls, so it’s tough to go home and not think about bad things that have happened or good things that may turn bad.
“The fact that he has been going home to that empty room, that empty apartment, probably is one of the toughest things someone can do,” he said.