|Thursday, February 6
Updated: March 13, 12:01 PM ET
Contreras nicknamed 'The Titan of Bronze' by Castro
NEW YORK -- Jose Contreras has a nickname as sharp as his pitches: "El Titan de Bronze.''
And, he says, it was given to him by Fidel Castro.
Contreras finally made it to Yankee Stadium on Thursday to finalize his $32 million, four-year contract.
At his introductory news conference, Contreras said the Cuban president called him "The Titan of Bronze'' because the right-hander was the Cuban ace. The nickname originally belonged to Antonio Maceo, the general who led the Cuban liberation army against Spain in the 19th century.
Contreras, however, wouldn't say what he thinks about Castro, whose communist regime has caused many Cuban baseball stars to defect, leaving their families behind.
"I can talk about Cuba. I can talk about Cuban baseball,'' Contreras said through a translator. "But I'm not here as a politician to talk about politics.''
Dressed in a double-breasted blue-gray suit, the 6-foot-4 right-hander spoke softly about his departure from Cuba last fall and his hopes to make his mark in the major leagues.
His model is Roger Clemens, one of his new teammates in pinstripes. Will the Titan pitch inside, just like the Rocket?
"Si, si, si,'' Contreras said, words agent Jaime Torres didn't need to translate.
"That's the difference for a pitcher,'' Contreras said. "That's how a pitcher lives, pitching inside.''
Asked what he admired in Clemens, Contreras cited "great, incredible physical condition and abilities,'' "pitching strategy'' and "guts and bravado.''
Contreras, who has a burly chest and tree-trunk legs, will get to start showing his stuff next week, when the Yankees open spring training in Tampa, Fla. He'll be scrutinized along with the team's other new foreign acquisition, outfielder Hideki "Godzilla'' Matsui.
"These people have been superstars in their respective leagues,'' said Yankees manager Joe Torre, looking tan following a six-week vacation in Maui. "I'm curious. I really am. They're both going to need interpreters. But I bet they understand each other.''
Contreras did not get quite the welcome given Matsui, a three-time MVP in Japan. When Matsui was introduced Jan. 14, the Yankees held a news conference at a Times Square hotel, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the official greeter.
Thursday's fiesta was held in the Stadium Club of Yankee Stadium, and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. welcomed him "on behalf of all New Yorkers and 1.4 million residents of the Bronx, many of Latino descent.''
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner allowed Contreras to use a private plane to travel to New York from Florida on Wednesday, and briefly came aboard to meet his latest acquisition for the first time.
Contreras left the Cuban team in October when it was playing in Mexico. He didn't tell his teammates his plans, didn't tell his two daughters, aged 2 and 10, according to the Yankees.
Once he established residency in Nicaragua and became a free agent, the Yankees won quickly in bidding that also included Boston and Seattle.
"Since I left Cuba, my dream was to be a Yankee,'' Contreras said.
New York general manager Brian Cashman likes Contreras for his 95 mph fastball, tough split-finger pitch and slider. The Yankees had been tracking Contreras at tournaments since 1996 and decided after his standout performance in the 2000 Sydney Olympics that they would try to sign him if he ever became available.
Contreras knows he might not even start because the Yankees have seven candidates for their rotation heading to spring training.
"I've always been a starter, and I would prefer to remain a starter,'' he said. "But I'm willing and ready to do anything the Yankees ask me to do. I'm the last one to arrive. I understand that.''