It took Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández four tries before he successfully defected to the United States from Cuba in 2008.
During that harrowing trip, which the then-15-year-old Fernández made with his mother and sister, the future major leaguer had to dive into the water to save his mother.
In a very real sense Fernández's long journey finally came to an end on Friday, when he became a U.S. citizen and served as the keynote speaker during a ceremony for 140 other South Florida residents.
"This is a dream that I've had since I was little and actually achieving it is really amazing," the pitcher, now 22, said. "Having my family here and so much support from this amazing country, it's really fantastic."
I'm an AMERICAN!! I'm honored & extremely grateful in becoming a U.S. Citizen today. Congrats to the 140ppl who shared this special day w me
— JoseDFernández (@JDFernández16) April 24, 2015
Fernández earned National League Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors in 2013. He's currently on the disabled list after having missed most of the 2014 season because of Tommy John surgery. Fernández was selected in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Marlins out of Tampa's Alonso High School.
"This is one of my important accomplishments," he said. "I'm an American citizen now. I'm one of them. I consider myself now to be free."
The new citizens sworn in during the ceremony represented 22 different countries. They heard taped presentations from President Barack Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was born in Czechoslovakia and became a U.S. citizen in 1957.
Officially a U.S. citizen! Congratulations, José! pic.twitter.com/C4AwO43Ug1
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) April 24, 2015
After the swearing-in, Fernández took to the podium.
"Today is not really about I can throw 100 miles [an hour], or I could be really good," Fernández said. "Today is really important because all of us are the same today. We just became citizens."
He went on, "I've accomplished a couple of things in my life like probably you guys have, too, and I think, in my book, this is a huge one. Everybody here probably had to make a tough decision to come [to the U.S.], right?"
He concluded, ''I thank this amazing country for giving me the opportunity to go to school here and learn the language and pitch in the major leagues. It's an honor to be a part of this country, and I respect it so much."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.