Former major league pitcher Jose Contreras has become the first athlete who defected from Cuba to return to his native land, thanks to a recent Cuban law that has eased travel restrictions, even for “high-level defectors."
Contreras, 41, left Cuba in 2002 to play in the majors. In his 10-year career, he has compiled a 78-67 record with a 4.55 ERA in 292 appearances (175 starts). He has one World Series title, with the White Sox in 2005. He was 3-1 in four starts that postseason.
According to nbclatino.com, Contreras has been photographed recently in his hometown of Las Martinas, Pinar del Rio meeting with fans and training, and that he is back in Cuba because his mother was recovering from surgery to have a limb amputated. The site also said that Contreras had no problems entering the country.
"Already, in the plane, I was crying. This is something big that I had waited 10 years for," Contreras reportedly told CNN while fans in Cuba lined up to be photographed with him. "It’s years of pain that can’t be erased, but I always had the hope that someday.”
Contreras became a national celebrity in the 1990s, winning Olympic gold, being named Cuban athlete of the year three times and shutting out the Baltimore Orioles for eight innings in an exhibition game.
Cuban athletes who defect have often been labeled traitors by the Cuban government, and athletes and politicians still have to request special permission to leave the country, according to CNN.
And Contreras is hoping that his return sparks a trend among fellow defectors.
"They shouldn’t be afraid, and (sports stars who defected) will keep continuing to return," he told CNN. "It’s the dream of anyone who lives outside Cuba, to be able to return and be with your family and the fans here."
Contreras pitched for the Phillies last season, going 1-0 with a 5.27 ERA in 17 appearances, all in relief. He is currently a free agent, but according to CNN he has plans to return to the United States to resume training in attempts of catching on with a team for the 2013 season.