Playing for keeps

The Sporting News today published an interesting story about two friends who grew up together playing baseball in Cuba–and wanting to come to America, to play for the Atlanta Braves.

One of the friends, Brayan Pena, snuck away from the Castro goon watching him at a baseball competition in Venezuela, by asking for some privacy in the restroom. The other friend, Yunel Escobar, came to America and freedom the hard way:

Escobar joined 35 people aboard a tiny vessel that drifted away from Cuba with no guarantees of ever making it to the U.S. All they thought about was being free.

“Everybody on the boat was scared,” he said. “We were between death and life.”

After two days at sea, the Cubans were picked up by the Coast Guard and brought to Miami. Escobar stopped by his old friend’s house, but Pena had already left to play in the Dominican winter league. The catcher got a call from his mother telling him that Escobar was now in the U.S.

“I was very surprised,” Pena said. “When I got back from the Dominican Republic, one of the first things I did was look for him. I was very happy and very emotional.”

For my money, the best passage of the story is the one that says it all:

“America is America, with all due respect,” Pena said. “When you’re free, man, you feel like you can do whatever you want. What can be better than that?”

Indeed, what can be better?