ZEBULON — One day, Carolina Mudcats outfielder Felix Perez will share the full story.
For now, the Cuban defector chooses to sketch a few details of his escape from Cuba.
Perez, who came off the disabled list Monday, has not had an easy journey, and it hasn't been easier since he set foot on U.S. soil.
What he will say about his defection is that he fled by boat with people he's afraid to identify. Their boat ran out of gas, leaving them stranded at sea for three days without food and with limited water, he says.
How he ended up in Mexico, he won't say, but from there his journey took him to the Dominican Republic and then to Miami.
He nearly got a reported $3.5 million signing bonus with the New York Yankees last year, but instead he was suspended for a year by Major League Baseball for lying about his age.
Perez, now believed to be 25 years old, said he was acting under advisers when he claimed to be 20 in 2009.
Talking about the ordeal this week, he relied on teammate Jerry Gil to translate his comments.
"I didn't want to do it, but people told me to," Perez said in Spanish. "Somebody came to me and told me to do this like this so you can get more money. I guess you have to be younger.
"I just wanted to play baseball, so I listened to other people."
A 25-year-old Perez commanded a lot less than a 20-year-old, as the Cincinnati Reds gave Perez a $550,000 signing bonus in May.
"I've learned," Perez said. "Right now, it's not about the money. ... I feel a lot better. I thank Cincinnati for the chance to get back and play baseball."
And he's thankful to have escaped Cuba.
"Everybody knows how things are in Cuba," said Perez, who wears thick gold chains around his neck, including several religious pendants, one with an image of Jesus. "You're not allowed to get paid. It wasn't easy to get out of there. I just thank God every day that I got out."
Perez, who has been hitting well at two levels of the minor leagues in this, his first professional season, also had a .429 batting average in the Dominican Republic Summer League. And with Lynchburg, he had a .338 batting average in 65 at-bats before getting moved up to the Mudcats.
Through 58 at-bats, he was batting .340 for the Mudcats but was sidelined for a 10 days with an oblique strain after making a diving catch into the wall in right-center field.
"I thought I was OK until I tried to take a couple of practice swings," Perez said. "I'm ready to get back."
He's been slowly worked back into the lineup since Monday, thus far pinch-hitting later in games.
Mudcats manager David Bell and hitting coach Randy Jackson liked what they saw from Perez before the injury.
"I think the big adjustment is just learning what it's like to be a professional player," Bell said. "But he's smart, he's aware. You can tell he's just trying to take everything in. He'll be fine."
While Perez is critical of Cuba, there's one part that still gets his praise.
"If there's one thing I'm proud about Cuba, it's that they showed me how to play baseball the right way," he said.
Added Jackson, "He's a guy that looks very polished. He's got a nice smooth swing. He's got a good feel for his swing."
Now Perez has to just return to form.
"I'm anxious to get back out there," he said.
He said he's thankful for his teammates.
"We've taken him in," Gil said.
That's helped. Perez has had a hard time talking publicly about his family. He has no relatives here or elsewhere in the United States.
"That's my land," he said. "I would like to go back over there and see all of my people. I'm by myself. It's hard."
Said Bell, "I think it's got to be difficult, probably more difficult than we can imagine. But I also know that life experience up to this point can give you a different perspective. He has an advantage that way."
Bell doesn't speak Spanish and relies on his bilingual players to communicate with some players, including Perez, to a degree.
The game can translate, too.
"It is kind of a universal language," Bell said.
Perez said he wasn't initially aware of who Bell was.
"I Googled him," Perez said of Bell, who had a 12-year major league career.
It was instant respect.
"He's really going to help me," Perez said.
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