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Thread: Yankees Pitcher, Cuban Family Reunite

  1. #1

    Default Yankees Pitcher, Cuban Family Reunite

    Yankees pitcher, Cuban family reunite


    The wife and two daughters of Yankees pitcher José Ariel Contreras -- the former Cuban national team star who defected in 2002 -- arrived in South Florida aboard what authorities described as a smuggler's go-fast boat after the Cuban government made it clear it would be years before they would be allowed to leave.

    Miriam Murillo Flores, 31, and the couple's two girls -- Nailan and Nailenis Contreras, 11 and 3, respectively -- came ashore in the Keys on Monday and were released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tuesday evening.

    "It's a tremendous joy," said Contreras, who arrived at Miami International Airport, having jumped on a flight from Baltimore, where the Yankees were playing.

    "It's a dream I never thought would come true," said Murillo, as she awaited her husband's arrival in Miami. Her sister, brother-in-law and five family friends, including two children, also made the trip.

    After clearing the last bureaucratic hurdles, they were released to Contreras' agent -- who arranged transportation befitting the wife of a major league player: a black stretch limo, which pulled up outside the Catholic refugee center in Doral to pick up the newly arrived Cubans.

    "Now, finally, they will be together," said agent Jaime L. Torres, who helped Contreras defect and has seen his client suffer through the prolonged separation from his family.

    "Not a day goes by that he doesn't talk to her or the girls," he said.

    Tuesday was no exception, but with one welcome difference: Minutes after slipping past the throng of reporters and well-wishers that gathered to greet the arriving Cubans, Torres handed his client's wife a cellphone.

    Contreras, en route from Baltimore, was on the other end. The couple was reunited a few hours later at the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach.

    Torres said his client had no idea his family was setting out for the United States until a reporter called with the news Tuesday afternoon.


    Murillo declined to talk about the specifics of the trip, saying only that the group left the island Sunday night.

    The group landed at Big Pine Key about 5:15 a.m. Monday after a three-hour chase by the U.S. Coast Guard. The boat, carrying a total of 21 Cubans and two suspected smugglers, eluded authorities long enough for the migrants to reach shore.

    The group were quickly taken into custody. The smuggling suspects were arrested, but their alleged cargo was free to go. Under the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot immigration policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay.

    When Torres found out Murillo and her daughters had arrived, he immediately called Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and asked permission for his client to leave the team for a reunion in South Florida.

    "Obviously we approved that without reservation," Cashman said. "We're hoping they're OK. I know that without a doubt he's missed his family terribly."

    Contreras' next scheduled start is Saturday at Yankee Stadium, but Cashman said the team has given the pitcher no timetable for his return.

    "That's not even an issue here," he said. "Whatever is necessary is what we'll do."

    The reunion closes a difficult chapter in Contreras' life. Since his defection, he has publicly suffered the separation from his wife and young daughters.

    Although Contreras went 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA in his rookie year, he was up and down between the majors and minors as the Yankees tried to help him work out what they called mechanical flaws. Contreras insisted the problem wasn't in his arm -- it was in his head.

    He was homesick.

    Contreras missed his daughters. And he missed his wife, whom he married in 1988 when he was 16 and she 15.

    "It's been difficult," Contreras said Tuesday night. "Imagine, two years apart from your wife, from your daughters."

    The couple met when they were both studying to be veterinary technicians. For the first seven years of their marriage, they lived with his parents in the town of Sandino, named for a Nicaraguan revolutionary hero. Later, the government gave the couple an apartment in nearby Pinar del Río.

    After he defected, Contreras racked up monthly phone bills that soared into five figures. When he's at home in his St. Petersburg condo, he has said, he spends nights on his balcony staring south -- toward Cuba.

    "Everybody goes home to someone who offers support," Yankee manager Joe Torre said. "He hasn't had that. The fact that he's going to be able to see his wife and children I'm sure is going to be a big relief."

    Contreras was the least likely of defectors. By Cuban standards, he lived well. He drove a blue Peugeot. The apartment was given to him as a reward for his baseball exploits.

    A stalwart supporter of Fidel Castro, he was also one of the dictator's favorites. Castro nicknamed him "The Bronze Titan" -- a handle Contreras uses in his e-mail address today.

    During the 2002 team trip to Mexico, Contreras was so trusted that he was given the responsibility of guarding the team's passports -- a privilege that came in handy. Contreras defected, making his escape along with a Cuban baseball official.

    Castro was quick to denounce Contreras as a traitor who sold out his homeland for money.

    Contreras first sought residency in Mexico before winning residency in Nicaragua. That allowed him to sell himself to the highest bidder as a free agent.

    Contreras said he was always a Yankees fan -- major league baseball, though officially banned, is followed closely in Cuba -- and he wanted to pitch in hallowed Yankee Stadium.

    What Contreras didn't say, but has always hinted, is that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner promised to use his political influence to get Contreras' wife and two daughters out of Cuba. The Yankees are one of the few teams that have an immigration lawyer in Washington.


    Meanwhile, his wife reported increasing harassment back in Cuba, and was arrested several times on what her husband described as bogus charges.

    Murillo and the girls had been granted a visa by Nicaragua, but she said the Cuban government twice denied them permission to leave.

    Officials told her she would have to wait five years, she said, until "the world had forgotten about José Contreras."

    "There was always a lot of obstacles to come here legally," she said Tuesday, just before reuniting with her husband. "I never thought I'd make it."

    Copyright © 2004 Knight Ridder. All Rights Reserved.

  2. #2


    June 24, 2004

    After Reunion, Contreras Ready to Settle Down


    BALTIMORE, June 23 - The Yankees have seen many sides of José Contreras. They have altered his delivery, changed his pitch selection, switched his role on the team, and shuttled him back and forth between New York and the minor leagues.

    But they have never seen Contreras pitch with peace of mind. Now that he presumably has it, after his emotional reunion with his wife and two daughters on Tuesday night, Contreras might realize his enormous potential.

    Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in the lobby of the Loews Hotel in the South Beach section of Miami Beach, Contreras declared that his troubles were behind him. "I am finally ready to become the pitcher I once was," he said through his interpreter, Leo Astacio.

    Contreras's wife, Miriam Murillo-Flores, and their daughters, Naylan, 11, and Naylenis, 3, left Cuba with 18 other people on a 31-foot boat Sunday night. They were picked up by United States Border Patrol agents at 5:15 a.m. Monday after their boat ran aground just off Big Pine Key, about 108 miles southwest of Miami. Contreras met up with his family late Tuesday night. He had not seen them since defecting in October 2002, when the Cuban national team was playing in Mexico.

    "Once I saw them," Contreras said Wednesday, "I began to cry."

    Contreras said his wife hugged him when they reunited and told him, "I thought I would never see you again."

    Once together, no one wanted to go to sleep, with the family eating a late dinner at a cafe near the hotel, then staying up past 2 a.m., Contreras said.

    "They are so happy," said Contreras's agent, Jaime Torres, in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Miriam is very pleased that he is the same José Contreras that left almost two years ago. To her, he has not changed, and she is very happy about that."

    Torres said that Murillo-Flores and the children spent most of Wednesday trying to resolve a clerical error on an immigration document that was filled out Tuesday, and the holdup apparently kept her from buying clothes for herself and her children.

    "As soon as we resolve everything here, they'll be on the first plane available to wherever the club is, whether it's Baltimore or New York," Torres said late Wednesday afternoon. "Right now, I don't know if we're going to be able to get all of this done today; it doesn't look like we will.

    "But as soon as we do, there is no other reason for them to be down here. Without that document, they cannot board a plane. They can move anywhere in the States, but they need a valid, government-issued ID to board a plane."

    Ana Santiago, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said that after a year and a day, the family would be eligible to apply for residency in the United States under terms of the Cuban Adjustment Act. Contreras, who established residency in Nicaragua in 2002 so he could become a free agent under baseball's rules, is already eligible to file for United States residency, and Torres said he might do so soon.

    Contreras left Cuba with no assurances that he would see his family again. But he expected them to be allowed to leave the country, and he bought a home for his family in Tampa, Fla. The months dragged on, and in one instance, Contreras said Wednesday, he had dreamed that his daughters were with him.

    "I would come after a game and often cry," Contreras said. "I'd come back to an empty sofa, an empty house."

    Torres said that the Cuban government tormented Murillo-Flores during the separation.

    "They were not making life easy for her," Torres said. "They were making life very difficult, accusing her of just thinking of leaving. They threatened not to give her an exit visa for five years, and I'm sure they threatened to put her in jail on whatever trumped-up charges they could come up with."

    Contreras said in spring training that his wife had been arrested twice, once on suspicion of defecting and once for alleged prostitution. "Why would a woman whose husband makes $8 million a year have to sell her body?" he said then.

    Life already seemed to be better for the family. About 7 p.m. Wednesday, Contreras and his wife posed for pictures in the hotel lobby. She then she got into a limousine with her children, apparently to go out to dinner. Contreras went to a nearby fitness center to work out.

    He is still scheduled to pitch against the Mets on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, and he said his family would make the trip north with him. "They're going to be with me when I go to New York," he said.

    Torres said he expected the family to be at Yankee Stadium for the game. "It doesn't make any sense for them to be in the States and not have the opportunity to see him on Saturday," Torres said. "I believe that's the plan."

    The pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said that Contreras, who started last Sunday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, would ordinarily have thrown in a bullpen session on Wednesday.

    Stottlemyre did not know if Contreras would do that this week, but he said he expected Contreras to throw his usual lighter session - four to five minutes - at Yankee Stadium on Friday.

    Contreras is 4-3 with a 6.18 earned run average this season, and in his 20 major league starts he has shown glimpses of overpowering ability and long periods of bewildering struggles. Stottlemyre believes the family reunion could end his struggles.

    "It has to help," Stottlemyre said. "Even though I thought he did a pretty good job at keeping his head clear when he was working at the Stadium, it still had to weigh on him."

    The Yankees will be expecting Contreras's talent to emerge consistently now, and the team's principal owner, George Steinbrenner, who spent $32 million to sign him and keep him away from the Boston Red Sox, places special emphasis on games with the Mets.

    But Saturday's start will be the end of a whirlwind week for Contreras, and Manager Joe Torre said he understood that.

    "This is a special circumstance," Torre said. "Whatever he comes in Saturday with is what we'll take."

    Charlie Nobles contributed reporting for this article from Miami.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  3. #3
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village


    Very heart-warming. Maybe he'll pitch better now.

  4. #4

  5. #5


    June 28, 2004

    Contreras Has His Most Important Victory: His Family Is Watching


    José Contreras was the winning pitcher for the Yankees. He struck out 10 Mets.

    José Contreras with his wife Miriam, left, and their daughters Naylan, 11, and Naylenis, 3. The game was the first that Contreras's family was able to watch in person since they left Cuba last week.

    José Contreras finally had everything he always wanted yesterday, in baseball and in life. He had the chance to be reunited with his family, the chance to pitch for the Yankees and the chance for his wife and two daughters to watch as he threw dancing forkballs against the Mets at Yankee Stadium. Cotton candy was never a part of his dreams, but it was a sweet addition for his children.

    By the time the Contreras family appeared in a room with more than 100 reporters, it had already been an emotional day at the end of a draining week. Contreras tossed six superb innings as the Yankees cruised to an 8-1 victory, with his family happily cheering his 10 strikeouts.

    The game was a mixture of relief and elation for the family, and a little too taxing for its youngest member. While Contreras answered questions, Naylenis, his 3-year-old, was going, going, gone for a nap in his lap. Contreras playfully jostled her but, a few seconds later, her eyes were drooping again.

    To watch Contreras giggle when his daughter tried to sneak a snooze was to watch a side of him the Yankees had never seen. To have Contreras take control of an important meeting on the mound was something catcher John Flaherty hadn't experienced, either.

    "It actually seemed like he was having more fun doing his job today," Flaherty said. "Obviously, his family has a lot to do with that. But there have been more smiles in that corner the last three days than we've seen in the last year and a half."

    Contreras was not smiling during the tense fifth inning, which was good. He had a 4-0 lead, but the Mets had the bases loaded with two outs. The count was 3-2 on Kazuo Matsui. Flaherty went out to talk with Contreras, and Alex Rodriguez loped over from third base to serve as the interpreter.

    With Mike Piazza looming, Flaherty told Contreras he desperately needed to throw a strike, so he told him to use his fastball. Contreras balked. He told Flaherty he was most comfortable with his forkball and that was what he wanted to throw. Flaherty acquiesced, impressed with Contreras's confidence.

    Contreras fired a forkball that stayed up a bit in the zone, but Matsui flied out to center. Derek Jeter pumped his fist as if it were a postseason game, and Rodriguez smacked Contreras's back. Contreras prevented the Mets from scoring and prevented Piazza from batting with runners on base.

    "It takes a lot of guts to make that pitch with Mike Piazza standing in the on-deck circle with the chance to do some damage," Flaherty said. "It's probably the pitch of the game from our standpoint."

    In a private box on the loge level along the right-field line, Contreras's family members, who were dressed in pink shirts, stood up and shouted. Miriam, his wife, who defected from Cuba last week, said she prayed that her husband would pitch well in his first game in front of his family.

    "Thanks to God," she said, "it became a reality."

    Naylan, Contreras's 11-year-old daughter, was asked for her impressions of an unforgettable day and said, "I thought that my dad was going to win."

    Contreras dedicated the game to his family, to the friends from Cuba who defected with them, and to the Cubans who still support him. While he said he did not think about his family during the game, he knew that he would see them afterward. That was the crucial difference. The Yankees prohibited reporters from asking about the family's defection.

    "Today, with the presence of my family, it gave me more motivation to get my team the victory," Contreras said.

    Contreras has often been an enigma since defecting from Cuba and signing with the Yankees. Manager Joe Torre says Contreras has "knockout stuff," but does not always trust his repertory. Believe in yourself the way we believe in you, the Yankees have told Contreras again and again.

    Now that Contreras's family has joined him, the Yankees hope he will calm down and allow himself to be more confident. Contreras does not have to worry about missing his family again.

    "When things aren't going well, there's a tendency to think of all the bad things in your life," Torre said. "That's a huge thing that hadn't been settled. Now it has been. That should help. But he still has to go out and pitch."

    For one start, Contreras pitched. He had to leave the game with a cramp in his right index finger, but he said it was not serious. Then he went back to being a father and a husband, roles he could not fulfill the last 20 months. He got to hear all about the cotton candy.

    "To be honest, I couldn't care less how he pitched," Jeter said. "I was just happy for him."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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