Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu revealed the harrowing details of his escape from Cuba in a series of interviews with Jared Hopkins of the Chicago Tribune, published this weekend.
A number of players in the major leagues have left Cuba to play baseball in the United States. Some, like Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig or Florida Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, made numerous attempts to do so.
"I've heard Abreu's story, and I thought mine was crazy," said Adrian Nieto, a teammate and fellow Cuban. "Him being on a little boat with just two motors and these two huge ships got in between them. He said the waves were 15 feet high and he thought they were going to drown. It's crazy."
After leaving Cuba, Abreu settled in the Dominican Republic, first in the capital Santo Domingo and later in the northern city of Santiago. Amauri Morel, who works with Praver Shapiro Sports Management in the country, said he assisted Abreu with housing and helped him find facilities in which to train.
Abreu said he decided to leave his birthplace during the World Baseball Classic in 2013. According to Hopkins' recounting, Abreu made it out of the country with his brother-in-law on Abreu's first attempt to defect.
"I realized I could go elsewhere with baseball," Abreu said in Spanish. "Everyone knows we're here playing in the world's best baseball league. The differences [with Cuban baseball] include the level of professionalism among players here."
For Puig, escape from the island involved navigating the waters of the Caribbean as well as negotiations with human smugglers in Mexico.
Chicago and Abreu agreed on a six-year, $68 million contract during the offseason last year. At the time, the deal was a record for an international player.
Last season, Abreu hit .317, with a .383 on-base percentage and a .581 slugging percentage. In 145 games, he had 107 RBIs and 36 home runs.
- Christopher Woody