Patriots

The Long Walk: Iglesias journey from Cuba to the Sox

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The Long Walk: Iglesias journey from Cuba to the Sox

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.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.

11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.

15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.

19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
 
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
 
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.

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 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
 
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
 
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
 
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
 
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
 
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
 
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
 
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
 
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
 
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
 
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
 
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
 
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
 
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
 
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
 
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
 
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
 
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
 
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
 
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
 
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
 
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
 
And even that might not be enough.
 
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
 
“Here in this league,” he said, “you have to love challenges.”

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