Baez and Contreras together again in Philadelphia

BY foxsports • February 27, 2010

When word first started spreading that veteran pitcher Jose Contreras was joining the Philadelphia Phillies last month, no one was happier than Danys Baez.

This was no ordinary new teammate for Baez. Hardly.

Contreras' signing with the Phillies completed a remarkable reunion of two men who escaped Cuba and found success in the major leagues.

``I called (Contreras) right after he signed,'' said Baez, who signed with Philadelphia in January. ``From the real Cuba to the Philadelphia Phillies, that's the dream.''

Said Contreras: ``The first day we went through the door after training, my wife passed and said, 'I'm really happy to see Danys.' I said, 'You're happy? No, I'm happy It's a lot easier.''

During the first 11 days they've spent at the Phillies' spring training site in Clearwater, Fla., Baez and Contreras have been linked at the spikes. Where one goes, the other follows.

Of course, the two right-handers, who are both expected to pitch out of the bullpen for the Phillies this season, were linked once before: Baez and Contreras were both members of the Cuban National team 10 years ago.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is banking on the Cuban reunion to add durability and dependability to his bullpen in 2010.

``Contreras has got a big arm,'' Manuel said recently. ``And Baez will never turn down the ball these are mentally tough guys.''

The similar makeup Manuel sees in the two relievers has no doubt been established through the trials the two pitchers had to go through to flee from Cuba. Baez, a 22-year-old rookie in 1999, defected while with the Cuban team and signed with the Cleveland Indians. Contreras dealt with the repercussions.

Before Baez defected, he gave Contreras some personal effects, intended for the family he was leaving. But when Contreras arrived at Baez's home, it wasn't Baez's mom who welcomed him into the house.

``All the police officers in town were waiting for me,'' Contreras said.

Contreras was released when it became apparent that he didn't have any details about Baez's defection.

The ramifications of defecting from Cuba don't end with uncomfortable interviews with the police. Less than two years after he left Cuba in 2003 to sign with the New York Yankees, Contreras received word that his father had died.

Contreras wasn't able to attend the funeral. He had to listen to over the phone.

``Think about it. Why? Why? We haven't done anything,'' Baez said, after retelling the story and translating for Contreras. ``We haven't killed anybody. We want to play the best baseball in the world, that's it.''

Baez and Contreras would like to see a time when the political climate changes in Cuba.

They'd like nothing more than to take their new family - their wives and children - back to see their old families and friends they haven't seen in years.

The comforts of living in the United States helps bury memories of the struggle of leaving Cuba as far back as they can.

With each passing day in the major leagues, they are another day removed from having to live in fear.

``I was in the room taking orders: Now we go here, now we're doing this, now we're signing these papers, now you have to go through the airport,'' Baez said of the fear that encompassed him during the defection. ``I spent three hours in the airport bathroom, waiting the government of Canada was looking for me, and Cuba and Canada have relations. They were going to take me and send me back to Cuba. And what happens in Cuba, I don't know but I didn't want to find out.''

The two relievers are grateful they've found each other again, too.

``The bottom line,'' Baez said. ``is you know you're making the right decision. You have the chance to play major league baseball, with the very best in the world I haven't seen my brother in 10 years. But now I have a friend in (Contreras) on my team, in my clubhouse. It's a gift, it really is.''

NOTES: Philadelphia RHP Roy Halladay will start against CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees in the Phillies Grapefruit League opener Thursday at Bright House Field. Philadelphia LHP Cole Hamels is on tap to pitch Friday against the Blue Jays while fellow left-hander J.A. Happ will start an exhibition game Wednesday vs. Florida State University. Philadelphia left-handed reliever J.C. Romero was supposed to throw off the mound for the first time Saturday, but rain pushed it back a day. Romero had elbow surgery in October.