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Otero's grandmother shares story of defection

Otero's grandmother shares story of defection

OAKLAND -- Tucked away in Miami Springs is one of Dan Otero's biggest fans.

The A's reliever's grandmother is 93 years old, a true treasure with a fascinating story to tell.

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She told it to Otero when he was in high school and writing a Spanish research paper on the history of Cuba. Because who better for him to go to than someone who had defected from the country?

"I drew back to my family history," said Otero, "and came away with this unbelievable story. I had no clue. And to think about the impact it's had on my life is crazy."

Dolores Otero was 40 at the time, her husband, Alberto, 42. Each of their three children, including Dan's father, Jorge, were under the age of 10 and in danger of being brainwashed with communist thinking, she believed.

After all, as a high school mathematics and physics teacher in Havana, she had been asked by her principal to speak in favor of the Revolution during the final 10 minutes of each class.

This was 1960, a year into Fidel Castro's regime.

"I didn't do it," said Dolores, speaking by phone. "He called me again and again about it. But I wouldn't. That's when my husband decided I needed to get out of there."

Except Jorge was an engineer, and Dolores, of course, was a professor -- two professions that influenced the country's infrastructure. People with these types of professions weren't allowed to leave the country.

So they made a plan to do it covertly.

Dolores, already struggling to maintain her voice as a teacher, decided the only way to receive a leave of absence was to blow her vocal chords completely. She read in front of an air conditioner for hours until she could no longer speak.

A specialist informed her she needed to leave work for at least two or three months.

"In the meantime," she said, "we arranged things to leave the country. We left everything as it was, furniture, clothes, everything."

Her brother drove the family to the airport, where members of her school's militia nearly caught her in the act. They called for her name on the loud speaker, but only Jorge heard it. Naturally, he remained quiet.

Another woman at the airport, also named Dolores Otero, didn't.

"It was a tremendous coincidence," said Dolores. "She was interviewed by the militia, and she could prove that she wasn't a math teacher and had nothing to do with it. And that was that.

"We survived the scare and made it over here. It was very hard leaving Cuba, but we've done our best here."

They settled in the Hialeah area, having familiarized themselves with Florida several times prior through swim meets. Each of the children swam, though baseball was always Jorge's love.

He grew up playing the sport on the sandlots in Cuba, ultimately passing down this passion to Dan, who says, "He was the baseball nut of the family.

"They had winter ball leagues down there, so he remembers watching a lot of the Yankees legends. I remember him telling me about Hoyt Wilhelm, the Orioles knuckleball closer, who came down there a lot."

"Baseball, baseball, baseball. He loved it," Dolores said of her late husband, who passed in 2008. "He would be very happy to see his grandson doing what he's doing now."

Dolores quickly got a job as a high school math teacher upon landing in the States. Jorge continued work as an engineer, finishing his career at Miami International Airport about five years before his death. Dolores worked until she was 70.

"They just loved working," said Dan, fluent in Spanish. "They're hard workers. I'm proud to be part of that family."

Dan has yet to see the country his grandparents called home for so long -- "My grandma says I'm not allowed to until the Castro regime is fully done with," he said -- and Dolores has yet to return, either. She has no desire to.

The past behind her, she's simply relishing a growing family that includes seven grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren, including Dan's daughter, Kinsley. She'll travel to New York, where her daughter lives, in June to see the A's play.

They'll also be in her backyard later that month for a three-game road set with the Marlins.

"We're very lucky I tell you," she said.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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