I remember my dream of becoming a professional MLB player, to represent my people and to help those I love through this game. Being born in a country where baseball is the national pastime gave me the foundation to become the person and the player I am today.
At 26 years of age, I made a decision to leave my Cuba.
Not knowing what the outcome would be, I, along with a few members of my family, floated away in a small cramped boat for more than 12 hours before reaching Haiti. The waters were rough, the night was scary, and the sun was unforgiving.
I remember looking back as we drifted away, leaving behind my life, my family, my friends, and my two-year-old son. I could feel my heart pounding harder and harder as we got further away. I knew that even if I made it to my destination safely, I didn’t know if I would be able to ever return.
It was the hardest decision I have had to make but it was exactly what needed to happen. I couldn’t have imagined how blessed my life was going to be after I left; how my dream of becoming a professional player in the Major Leagues would become a reality, as well as becoming a symbol of pride for my people.
Yet, I lived not knowing if or when I would be able to see my family or be able to go back.
I was so blessed to return to my homeland last year as part of the Baseball Goodwill Tour thanks to the efforts of Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association, President Obama, and the Cuban government.
That empty dark part of my heart was suddenly filled with joy and great appreciation.
I treasured every minute I spent with my family, the future heroes of the game, and the beautiful faces of my fans in Cuba. I cried tears of happiness while holding my son and left happy knowing that soon we’ll be able to play baseball without boundaries. And thank God, that’s exactly how all of my dreams are coming true.
José D. Abreu
P.S. Yesterday, for the first time in 17 years, an MLB team played the Cuban national team in an exhibition game in Havana.
You can read President Obama’s reflections on what this small step means for relations between our two countries at ESPN.com.