LAKELAND, Fla. Tigers catcher Brayan Pena wanted to get to the United States even more than he wanted to play in the major leagues. Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, he longed for the freedom that was 106 miles away across the Straits of Florida to Key West.
Defecting is always risky. But at the age of 16, Pena mapped out a plot with a friend that he will not name to this day, for fear of retaliation from the oppressive government that knows nothing of democracy.
Freedom is bigger than baseball, Pena, 31, said. Freedom is bigger than anything. You leave behind everything in Cuba for freedom, but I did not hesitate.
Some baseball players opt to escape while touring the U.S. with the Cuban national team. Others, like former Tigers outfielder Barbaro Garbey, take the treacherous route by sea on a flotilla. Pena said he was scared to escape in a boat.
Pena, who will start at catcher in the Tigers' Grapefruit League opener Friday, chose to make his move at a baseball tournament in Ca...