PHOENIX -- Sea más enfocado, más concentrado.
Be more focused, more concentrated. This is what Estela Milanes often told her only son last year, observing even from thousands of miles away that he was distracted, despite exceptional rookie numbers telling everyone else he was just fine.
Mother always knows best, and Yoenis Cespedes tried to take her advice to heart, as he always does. But pushing away these distractions while also adjusting to life in an A's uniform to play a game built on mental toughness wasn't easy, not when it was her he was worried about.
For more than a year, Milanes and 11 other family members were engaged in a lengthy struggle to emigrate from Cuba to the United States and join Cespedes, who defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2011 to seek an opportunity as a Major League Baseball player.
Cespedes, ultimately signed at age 26 by the A's to a four-year deal worth $36 million, was in contact with his family maybe 10 times during the first four months of the 2012 season. At one point, they were off the map and out of contact for three or four days.
"I had no idea where my family was," Cespedes said through translator Ariel Prieto. "They just disappeared."
They soon found safety, but it was fleeting. In October, following an extensive stay in the Dominican Republic, they were captured in a raid and detained as illegal immigrants in the Turks and Caicos Islands, falling under suspicion of being the subject of a human trafficking ring, according to the Turks and Caicos Sun.
Today, they are in Miami, and they were all treated to a surprise visit by Cespedes this weekend, mere hours after safely arriving in the United States. Cespedes left the A's to welcome his family on Saturday night, landing at their doorstep the next morning around 6 a.m.
"No one knew I was coming," Cespedes said Tuesday, back with the A's. "Everyone was sleeping, so I turned on all of the radios, all of the TVs. Nobody woke up, so I went upstairs and started knocking on all of the doors and screaming."
Even more screaming ensued when the surprise guest was revealed. There was hugging, there was crying. Pure joy filled this reunion of mother and son, separated for over a year. And the party, Cespedes says, lasted 12 hours, before he had to return to the airport for a one-way trip back to Phoenix.
"I'm very happy," said a noticeably relieved Cespedes, openly engaging with reporters in a way never seen before. "So much happiness."
Their time apart will last mere weeks, as Cespedes plans to fly them out to Oakland for Opening Day. Finally, Milanes will watch her son live out his dream in person, the dream she essentially created for him by raising him on a ball field.
For 10 years, Milanes was "the best lefty softball pitcher in all of Latin America," Cespedes proudly says, and he would attend each of her games, even if it meant escaping school early to make it by first pitch. She represented Cuba in the 2000 Summer Olympics, showcasing a precious arm that reached 80 miles per hour.
Imagine, then, her arm and Cespedes' bat coming together for a round of batting practice.
"No," Cespedes said, smiling.
It never happened, not after she once surprised him with a curveball that hit his ear while the two were once playing catch.
Milanes, 45, has since retired from the game, though Cespedes insists the talent is still there. For now, though, she'll remain a spectator -- sort of.
"She's going to be my second hitting coach," joked Cespedes. "She watched our games a lot last year and she would contact me by Skype and tell me what I was doing wrong."
How much could have been said? From the outside looking in, Cespedes appeared to handle life in the Majors with ease, leading the team with a .292 average while also collecting 23 home runs and 82 RBIs -- along with 16 stolen bases -- in 129 games. The speed, the power, all of his tools, came as advertised. And he flashed them all, even while learning a new position in left field. Naturally, he mastered that as well.
This year he has a handful of added weapons in tow: a clear mind and a full heart.
"Last year I tried hard to concentrate, even with all of those issues with my family going on, but this year my mind is going to be completely free of that," he said. "I still worry about them a bit, but my mind is going to be completely clear knowing that they're here in the country."
An important face is still missing, though. Cespedes hasn't seen his 3-year-old son, Yoenis Jr., in two years, and he is working to bring him to the United States, even if only for one brief visit at a time. Until then, Cespedes will keep him engaged on the phone every so often.
And back on the field, he'll continue to engage those lucky enough to watch him play the game his mother taught him so well.
"Obviously we're extremely happy for him, and you think about what it would be like for you to be reunited with your family after so long," manager Bob Melvin said, "but I don't think we have that kind of perspective based on what he's been through. It's amazing."