NEW YORK -- He escaped Cuba, risking everything for the freedom to play pro baseball. He signed a rich contract with the New York Yankees, then won their most important game of the year and secured the adoration of a city's baseball fans.
But until Friday, Orlando Hernandez didn't have it all because he didn't have his family. There were stories that he had wept in the clubhouse, longing for his children, left behind in Cuba with his ex-wife.
That all changed, just in time for a beaming Hernandez to hoist his kids above the clamoring crowds during Friday's ticker-tape victory parade up Broadway. The skyscraper canyon resounded with chants of "Du-que! Du-que!"
"God heard my prayers," Hernandez said.
Hernandez pleaded with Cardinal John O'Connor to help get his family to America. The cardinal sent a message to President Fidel Castro, and the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations told O'Connor late Wednesday that a visit had been approved, according to Joe Zwilling of the New York Archdiocese. Hernandez's agent, Joe Cubas, said the family had a 30-day visa.
Early Friday, at an airport in New Jersey, the Yankee pitcher saw his mother, Maria Julia Pedroso Cruz, and daughters Yahumara, 8, and Steffi, 3, for the first time since last December when he and seven others packed in a small boat, slipped into the sea and made it to a remote Bahamian island.
The reunited family wept and hugged while friends stood by with bottles of champagne.
Hernandez "keeps pinching himself to make sure that it's all really happened," Cubas said.
"I am very happy that I will be able to see my dad," Yahumara said during a stopover in Miami, when the family switched from a charter plane to George Steinbrenner's private jet. "I have missed him."
"I'm very proud of my son," said his mother. "He hasn't changed, in spite of the fact that he has all that money." Since Hernandez left, she said, "It has been very difficult for us, but we have survived the situation."
Hernandez's ex-wife, the mother of his children, joined them for the trip.
Hernandez signed a three-year, $6.6 million contract with the Yankees and became a reliable starting pitcher. In the American League championship series, he showed no fear, winning a game the Yankees desperately needed. He also won Game 2 of the World Series, and his wife, Noris Bosch, and other friends and relatives waved a Cuban flag in the stands afterward.
On a parade float with other Yankees pitchers Friday, Hernandez was joined by his wife and both daughters. At the City Hall ceremony, he doffed his cap, showing his smooth head, and bowed.
"Du-que! Du-que!" the crowd chanted again.
At Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's suggestion, Hernandez took the microphone to address the Yankees' Latino fans. "I don't speak English," he said first, then switched to Spanish and said, "I love you New York" to more thunderous cheers.
"He cannot believe he went from all the pain and suffering he was enduring in Cuba to being one of the top pitchers for the New York Yankees," Cubas said. "It's really a surreal situation.
"He wants to try to spend as much quality time as he can with his daughters and his mother," the agent said, and that might include a boat trip in New York Harbor. The girls, he said, want to see the Statue of Liberty.
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