07/11/05 6:17 PM ET
Baez's All-Star odyssey
Closer defected from Cuba to acheive Major League glory
By Patrick Mooney / MLB.com
One by one, a group of All-Stars paraded in front of the cameras Monday morning to help announce the first World Baseball Classic. Players such as the Dominican Republic's Miguel Tejada and Puerto Rico's Carlos Beltran wore white jerseys that proudly announced their national heritage. Baez, absent from the photo opportunity, was uncertain about his place in that overall picture.
"I don't know if they're going to let me play on the Cuban team," Baez said Monday at an All-Star media event. "I don't know if I want to play on the Cuban team."
For Baez, Tampa Bay's lone All-Star selection, Tuesday's All-Star Game represents a satisfying stop on a journey that began when he defected to Costa Rica on Aug. 1, 1999, at the Pan-American Games in Canada. Baez said his wife and daughter joined his parents at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Detroit on Sunday night and reminisced about the distance they've traveled.
"It was crazy," Baez said. "I was in Cuba with nothing."
In 2003, Baez reunited with his parents in the United States. The parents of defected Cuban athletes must wait five years before leaving the country.
"Sometimes, when you make decisions, you have to pay some prices," Baez said. "I made the decision not only for me, [but] for my family, to be here, playing the best baseball in the world."
Baez brings a 5-2 record, a 2.68 ERA and 13 saves into the contest. Unlike others who dream about playing in the Majors, Baez never watched the Midsummer Classic growing up.
"I had no idea about Major League Baseball," Baez said, recalling his childhood in Cuba. "We have only two channels there on national TV, so they put up whatever they want. There's nothing about the United States, nothing about baseball, basketball or football. Nothing about sports."
On Tuesday night, Baez will be introduced before an anticipated audience of more than 100 million people following the game on television, radio and on the Web.
"To be here in the Major Leagues, in the All-Star Game, it's great," said Baez.
Patrick Mooney is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.