In 2000 Brayan Pena made a difficult decision that changed not only the course of his life but his home.
Pena defected from his native Havana, Cuba without knowing the English language or the U.S culture. All he knew was baseball and he wanted to play with and against the best players in the world.
He signed with the Atlanta Braves on November 2, 2000 as an 18-year old. He made his Major League debut with them five years later.
Pena grew up with the knowledge of Cuban players that came to the United States to play prior to Fidel Castro's revolution. The revolution cut off the island country from its Caribbean neighbors 90 nautical miles away in January 1960.
"I remember back in the day there were a lot of Cuban players in the Major Leagues," Pena said.
Tony Perez left Cuba just before the revolution. Leo Cardenas was the Reds' shortstop in 1960. Cardenas played for the Havana Sugar Kings that had a working relationship with Reds' scouts, who couldn't compete with the Yankees and others for amateur talent in the days before the draft in 1965.
President Obama is in the process of normalizing the relationship with the U.S and Cuba.
Pena expects there to be more Cuban nationals in the Major Leagues in the coming years.
"There is just speculation now. We have to learn to adjust from them loosening up trade. It will take some time," Pena said. "There is a lot of talent there. They want to play at this level. It is a very difficult thing to leave family behind. Now about 85% of players who can play here are afraid to leave the country."
The families of Cuban defectors have been known to pay a price for their relatives' actions.
Still baseball is in the Cuban blood.
There are now 35 players from Cuba active now. There are 23 players that have played in at least one game this season.
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"I miss my family and I miss the country, but I'm not going back yet," said Pena, who learned to speak English by conversing with American players and watching TV with subtitles. "English is a very difficult language to learn."
Three strikes is an out in any language.
Professionally edited by ML Schirmer
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