A decade after he defected to the United States to play Major League Baseball, Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras has returned to his homeland in the first test of the island's liberalized travel laws.

He was welcomed on Tuesday at Havana's Hot Corner, a mecca for baseball fans, by about 200 people who crowded around to get photos and autographs from the lanky right-hander.

Contreras, 41, signed baseball caps, dollar bills, Cuban money and a woman's dress as he mixed happily with his fellow countrymen in an emotional return home.

"After 10 years, I've had the opportunity to come back to Cuba, to my land, my country, and it's like a dream come true to be here with my family, with my fans," Contreras told Reuters in an occasionally tearful interview.

Before January 14, when new travel regulations went into effect, high-profile defectors such as Contreras were effectively barred from returning to Cuba, but now they can return if they have been away for at least eight years.