LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Alex Sanchez's mind is clear.
After seeing his mother and brother for the first time in 11 years,
he now can focus on trying to keep his job as the Detroit Tigers'
starting center fielder.
Sanchez returned to spring training Saturday, not having slept
in two days but feeling full of life after the reunion.
His mother, Mercedes Sanchez, and his younger brother Jorge
escaped from Cuba two weeks ago by boat to Mexico. After crossing
the border into Texas, then spending more than a week being
processed at an immigration center, the two were released Wednesday
to embark on nearly two-day bus trip to Miami.
Alex Sanchez was at the bus station in his hometown Thursday
night to greet them for the first time since he boarded a raft in
Cuba in 1994 and began his journey to the United States.
"My mom came off the bus and she saw me and she started jumping
up and down and crying," Sanchez said.
He even shed his own tears.
"Everybody cried," he said. "It was amazing."
The family spent the next 30 hours or so catching up on the last
11 years -- staying up all night Thursday.
"I didn't sleep because my mom was like, 'Ah, I don't want to
sleep. I want to be with you. I want to talk,'" Sanchez said.
The family also stayed up until 2 a.m. Saturday before Sanchez
began the four-hour drive back to camp in Lakeland. Although he
hadn't slept in two days, he was back in time to catch the bus for
Detroit's 45-minute ride to Disney's Wide World of Sports and a
game against the Atlanta Braves.
He went 2-for-3 with a double in the Tigers' 4-3 win Saturday.
Jorge Sanchez was in the stands, watching his older brother play as
a professional for the first time.
Alex Sanchez said he still doesn't know all the details of the
4½-day boat trip his mom and brother made from Cuba to Mexico.
"We didn't talk about that," he said. "It was all about
He said his mom was "very skinny because the travel was
"But I think she'll be OK in a couple of weeks," he said.
Sanchez learned that his brother had to leave behind his wife
"That's tough for him," Sanchez said. "He still feels hurt,
but I think he's going to be OK."
Sanchez left Cuba in August 1994 and spent three days on a raft
before being picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to the
U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He elected to spend 16
months there rather than go back to Cuba.
He looked back Saturday knowing it was the right decision and
said he also believes the upcoming baseball season will be a good
"I think this year, I'm going to try to have the best year I've
had in baseball," he said. "I've got everybody together with me
now except my sister. She's going to be OK in Cuba.
"My mind is more free now. I have my family here. I don't have
to worry too much," he said. "It's a lot different now than
Tigers manager Alan Trammell said he's happy for Sanchez, but
noted the player still has to perform on the field. Sanchez must
show Detroit's front office that he's the center fielder the team
"I think he's got some peace of mind, but the expectations have
always been there," Trammell said. "This is a great story and I'm
happy for him, but as a professional, you've got to separate that.
"You're sympathetic when you're talking about it but you try to
treat everyone individually. When you're on the field, you have to
be able to separate that. That's the way it is.
"I hate to be that blunt but you've got a job to do," he said.
That doesn't bother the speedy Sanchez, who had a .335 on-base
percentage and 19 stolen bases in 79 games last year. He stole 52
bases in 2003, splitting the season between Milwaukee and Detroit.
"I know I can play in the big leagues," he said. "I want to
come back to Detroit and play here because I like this team. But I
don't make that kind of decision."