The first 10 days were spent on the run, hiding from Cuban authorities who might be on to his plans. Next were three harrowing days at sea, with three dozen others crammed into a boat, navigating amid storms and sharks. Then a couple days in a holding cell pending immigration processing before finally getting to start his new life in the United States.

"Things," Yunel Escobar said, "I never thought I'd go through."

As tough as it was for Escobar, the Rays' new shortstop, during those two weeks in late 2004, it was worse for the parents, brother and sister he left behind and couldn't update until he got safely to Florida.

"My family thought I was dead," he said.

Escobar was 21 at the time, leaving the life he knew in Cuba, where he'd been dropped from the national team, for what he hoped was a better one.

"We made a goal for me to come over here," he explained Monday, with teammate Joel Peralta helping interpret. "Making it to the big leagues was like a dream because I know not many players get the chance to get there. That's why I put forth the effort every day to be a big-league player."

Escobar made it in about two years, drafted by the Braves in June 2005 and reaching the big leagues in June 2007. He has since settled in south Florida, bringing his family over a few years ago, having a couple of kids of his own and earning about $10 million along the way, with a $5 million salary this season.

There have been some issues, too, criticism about his cockiness and dedication and questions about that very work ethic. He was traded in July 2010 to the Blue Jays, where there were more whispered complaints and a suspension last season when he made what he admitted was a mistake in having an anti-gay slur written on his eye-black. He was traded again this offseason to the Marlins, who flipped him to the Rays for prospect Derek Dietrich.