MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Jose Contreras (search) reunited with his wife and two daughters Tuesday night, one day after his family defected from Cuba and nearly 21 months after the New York Yankees (search) pitcher escaped the island nation.
Contreras traveled to Florida from Baltimore to meet his wife Miriam and daughters Naylan, 11, and Naylenis, 3.
"Of course I'm excited," he said after arriving at Miami International Airport, accompanied by Leo Astacio, his interpreter on the Yankees. "It's been two years without seeing my family, my wife and daughters."
Contreras then headed to Miami Beach and met his family at a hotel shortly before 11 p.m., according to his agent, Jaime Torres.
"I'm very happy. I've waited so very long," Miriam Contreras said earlier in the day at a refugee center.
Contreras, a former star on Cuba's (search) national team, defected in October 2002. After he established residency in Nicaragua and became a free agent, the Yankees signed him to a $32 million, four-year contract.
"It's spectacular news," Yankees manager Joe Torre said before Tuesday night's game at Baltimore.
Contreras' family was among a group of 21 Cubans that left on a 31-foot boat Sunday evening, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Robert Montemayor said.
The group was captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents off Big Pine Key at 5:15 a.m. Monday, Montemayor said, then transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody early Tuesday morning.
The family, looking tired but otherwise seemingly in good health, was processed and interviewed by immigration agents, then examined by Miami-Dade County medical officials before being released into the Torres' custody around 6:40 p.m.
"Thanks to God, they are free," Torres said. "We are very happy and they can have a reunion with their family. "His family has been separated for more than a year and a half. This is their dream come true."
Nicaragua twice granted Contreras' family visas, but the Cuban government denied permission for his relatives to leave the island. In late 2002, Contreras' family was informed that it would have to wait five years for a document required to leave.
"Her actions show how badly she wants to be here," Torres said of Contreras' wife.
While Contreras kept in contact with his family, the separation was often mentioned as a reason the ace pitcher might have struggled since reaching the majors.
Contreras is 4-3 with a 6.18 ERA in 11 starts this year, and was sent back to the minors earlier in the season. He is expected to make his next start Saturday at Yankee Stadium against the New York Mets.
"We all need so much support in this game, and a lot of comes from people outside the park," Torre said. "He had really his home and four walls, so it's tough to go home and not think about bad things that have happened or good things that may turn bad.
"The fact that he has been going home to that empty room, that empty apartment, probably is one of the toughest things someone can do," he said.