Like so many Cuban fathers, Nestor Cortes Jr.’s father went through literal hell to escape communist Cuba and give his children the opportunity to thrive in freedom. In Nestor Sr.’s case, his son went on to be an MLB star.
A Yankees Father’s Day story: How Nestor Cortes’ dad went to prison for his freedom and ended up with a major-league star
The thought of his father behind bars in a hellish prison still is emotional for Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes. He’s sickened and saddened, proud and grateful. His father risked everything in 1992, plotting to escape Fidel Castro’s communist Cuba with his brother and two cousins. They hired a boat in the northern coast, got there two days early and waited to make what figured to be a dangerous 90-mile sail to Miami.
Countless Cubans have died trying to get to Florida via cheap boats and rafts, but Nestor Cortes Sr. craved a chance at a better life and began acting on it. His sister had successfully defected to Miami in the 1980s. He’d heard life in the United States was so much better, even for people earning the bare minimum. She didn’t live in a shack. She wasn’t starving. She had real freedom.
Nestor Cortes Sr. knew he had to leave Cuba, even if it meant risking his life.
Everything was a go until his escape boat never showed up.
Disappointed, Nestor Cortes Sr. and family headed home, realizing they were stuck in Cuba for a while longer.
“My dad was thinking nobody knew about them wanting to leave, but word of mouth spread,” said Nestor Cortes Jr., who wasn’t yet born but heard the story from his father. “When he gets home, there’s a knock on the door a week later. That’s when he was arrested.”
Nestor Cortes Sr., 23 and single, was charged and convicted on defection attempt charges. For just making arrangements to leave, he was handed a one-year sentence behind bars.
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