He changed his life by climbing out a bathroom window.

In 1999, when he was 17 years old, Brayan Pena — the Tigers' new backup catcher but a native-born Cuban — defected while he was in Venezuela.

He did it by climbing out a bathroom window and by driving with a friend to a beach town where he did nothing for five months, he said, but watch TV, play video games, and "eat a lot of ice cream."

Had the Venezuelan authorities caught him, they would have sent him back to Cuba — where his family was poor, where he said his parents made $5 a month as teachers, and where there wasn't the kind of baseball future he wanted.

Now, with a $900,000 contract and what appears to be a solid roster spot on what he calls "a dream team" — not to mention a happy family life in nearby Orlando — Pena is one of the most identifiably happy people, not just players, in the Tigers' clubhouse.

In turn, the Tigers are happy to have him. A switch-hitting catcher, who can also handle the defensive end of the job, is valuable.

But to become valuable to the Tigers — to any team, for that matter — Pena had a decision to make about his life.

He had to leave Cuba.

And to do that, he had to defect while playing in a tournament in Venezuela — leaving behind everything he owned, and everyone he knew at home.

"I took nothing," he said. "I left it all behind. But I am so thankful to America — because America gave me everything, a career, a future.

"Five years ago, I became an American citizen, and that's the highlight of my life so far. Baseball is great, don't get me wrong. This is what I do.

"But America is bigger for me than baseball."

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130213/SPORTS0104/302130399#ixzz2KtIigp7U