PHOENIX — Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes rejoined the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday after briefly leaving spring training to be reunited with his family for the first time in about a year.
The Cuban defector surprised family members in Miami after they arrived over the weekend from the Turks and Caicos, where they had been detained as illegal immigrants. The relatives, including Cespedes’ mother, Estela Milanes, were released Jan. 21.
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Cespedes was back in the A’s lineup Tuesday against the Royals, playing left field and batting cleanup.
Cespedes had a 24-hour window before he had to return to camp, but his family understood. He said he hopes his mother and many of the others will be able to attend the A’s season opener in Oakland on April 1 against Seattle.
“I am happy,” Cespedes said at his locker through interpreter Ariel Prieto before the game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Cespedes acknowledged at the start of spring training that he worried constantly late last season about his family’s safety in the Dominican Republic. He wasn’t sure whether they might be targeted because of his legal issues stemming from a former agent who claims the outfielder owes him money.
Cespedes has a 3-year-old son, Yoenis Jr., still living in Cuba with the boy’s mother. He has not seen the child in two years, but first told the San Francisco Chronicle of his struggles in late January and that he hopes they soon will have a visit thanks to new laws in Cuba that allow citizens to travel and return.
Cespedes said he kept most of his frustrations inside as he wondered about the fate of his family, whose journey began in the Dominican Republic. He spoke occasionally with his mother over the computer. His mother was a left-handed pitcher for the Cuban Olympic softball team.
A’s manager Bob Melvin could tell the situation was weighing on Cespedes, who despite his worries and several injuries went on to hit .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in 129 games, finishing second to the Angels’ Mike Trout for AL Rookie of the Year.
Melvin wanted to give Cespedes a mental break down the stretch last season, except Cespedes wouldn’t go for it. He predicted at the start the A’s would make the playoffs in 2012, and they rallied over the final 10 games to stun the Texas Rangers on the regular season’s final day to capture the AL West.
“You try to put yourself in that situation, what it would be like for you, but you just can’t do it,” Melvin said. “He is a very hard worker. If you watched him, you would see his workouts are pretty intense.”
Cespedes learned to make adjustments last season and Melvin is confident he will make more.
“He is a smart hitter. He got better as the season went along,” Melvin said. “Sometimes they (opponents) wouldn’t pitch to him and he had to learn to lay off.”
Cespedes said he will continue to worry about his family, but not nearly to the degree he did last year. There were times when he did not know where they were.
“My mind is completely clear,” he said.
His mother, 44, will become like a second hitting coach for him. He attended a countless number of her games, and said she once hit him in the ear while they were playing catch on a curveball he didn’t know was coming.