Finally, Yoenis Cespedes got to have fun at the ballpark again -- and he enjoyed every second of it.
Signed by the Oakland A's to the biggest contract ever given a Cuban player, Cespedes was able to put the seven months of uncertainty following his defection behind him on Saturday afternoon.
A week after finalizing the four-year, $36 million deal with the A's, Cespedes made his exhibition game debut.
It wasn't quite what A's manager Bob Melvin said he was hoping for on Saturday morning.
"I'd like to see him hit three home runs, steal three bases and rob someone of a home run in center field," Melvin said.
But it wasn't bad.
Facing Cincinnati right-hander Johnny Cueto, Cespedes drew a six-pitch walk, never swinging the bat, in the first inning.
"I was trying to recognize pitches," said Cespedes, who said he was thrown two fastballs among the six pitches.
In the second inning, against Cueto again, he fouled off the first pitch he was thrown, then shot an RBI single up the middle.
"There were runners on second and third," said Cespedes, who was assisted by translator Ariel Prieto, who himself defected from Cuba 18 years ago. "I need to find a comfortable pitch and get the run in."
And finally, leading off the fourth inning against lefty Jeff Francis, Cespedes took a ball and a strike, fouled off four consecutive changeups, then lined a fastball over the left field fence at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
"As a pitcher, you go into the game approaching everybody the same," Francis said. "But I think, for the game as a whole, it is exciting to have a guy with a lot of hype have a good game. It's not fun for me, but it's fun for the fans."
What he showed Francis is that he can do "What good hitters are supposed to do. He did a good job fouling off good pitches. ... They were not great swings. He was off balance, but he did what a good hitter does, fouling off a pitcher's pitches, waiting for a mistake, and then hitting the mistake over the fence. I tried to go in on him and was too far over the plate. I messed up and he didn't."
But then this was an afternoon Cespedes admits he has been dreaming about for a long time, wearing a major league uniform, playing against major league players.
"The most important thing in my life is to play in the big leagues and now it's a dream come true," Cespedes said. "These guys are better than the Cubans. The Cubans have some good pitchers, but here you can see everybody is going to be better.
"It's the best baseball in the world. Here, the guys make money, and they worry about it because they have to take care of families and things like that. In Cuba, it's completely different. They don't care about anything."
The league has now officially welcomed the best player from Cuba, who admits everything is a feeling-out process.
"I am going to try and be a better player here than I was in Cuba," he said.
The A's can only hope so, although they admit he is still mostly an unknown. Their exposure to Cespedes has been through video and glimpses of him in game action in international competition, such as the World Baseball Classic.
"We know less about this guy than anybody else in camp," said Melvin. "It's a unique situation."
The awareness, however, is growing. Having worked out for the A's the previous five days, including three days of simulated games in which he was 8 for 16 with two home runs, Cespedes has begun to give them a few clues about what he can do.
"Cuban baseball is good baseball," said Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, who a year ago added Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman to the Reds roster. "Everyone wants to equate it to Triple-A, Four-A. I don't know about that, but I know the more good players you have, the better you're going to be. ... I'm pulling for the guy."
Baker won't have to see Cespedes again once the season begins, the A's being in the AL West and Cincinnati in the NL Central.
But Baker, like the rest of baseball and its fans, however, will be keeping an eye on him.