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Sunday, March 13, 2005
Despite not sleeping, Sanchez energized by reunion

Associated Press

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.

Alex Sanchez
Center Field
Detroit Tigers
79 2 26 41 19 .322

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 love."

He said his mom was "very skinny because the travel was tough."

"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 and daughter.

"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 one.

"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 before."

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 wants.

"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."