FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Dalier Hinojosa welcomes the request.
"Good -- finally. My first interview," he says with a laugh in Spanish. "The first of many."
His is a story worth telling.
Here are the basic elements that convinced the Red Sox to sign Hinojosa to a $4 million minor league contract last October: He is a thick 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher with a powerful 91-95 mph fastball that he pounds for strikes and commands well, and he suggests that his success is a byproduct of getting ahead in the count and putting hitters on the defensive. The 27-year-old veteran of international competition also has a slider, curveball and changeup at his disposal, with the slider representing the most consistent offering, capable of generating swings and misses. He has experience as both a starter and reliever, though multiple evaluators agree that his likeliest path to the big leagues is as a reliever, with the upside of a late-innings contributor.
That thumbnail sketch defines Hinojosa in familiar terms. But the Cuban, who defected during a tournament leading up to the World Baseball Classic last February has a background that is more complex than a traditional scouting report.
"This has been the hardest decision that I've had to make in my life and my baseball career because I had to leave my family, I had to leave my country, I had to leave everything that I was accustomed to. But I made that decision because I had conviction that this was for my well-being and for the well-being of my family," said Hinojosa. "I made the decision before the World Baseball Classic [in 2013] that I would leave in the tournament leading up to the Classic. It was a decision I made personally. Of course it was something I wanted to talk about with my family, but it's a risk and I didn't want to put my own mother in that situation where, if I told her I was going to leave, it could have meant that she would be sad and it could have also put my leaving in jeopardy."
He left the Cuban team with his wife; subsequently, Hinojosa has been able to bring his mother from the island nation to join him. The contrast in the life that he knew in Cuba and the one to which he's adjusting here has been marked, the motivation to engage in his life-changing decision straightforward.
Hinojosa said he made the irreversible decision "for the simple fact that I wanted to continue to support myself and support my family doing what I know how to do, which is play baseball. I wanted to come to the United States, where the best in the world come to play baseball rather than stay in Cuba where you get to the top of the Cuban baseball league and you're still not playing with the best players in the world. I thought I could compete here. I wanted to come here and show what I could do. It was basically that that motivated that decision, but on top of that, it's no secret that the situation in Cuba can be difficult at times and I wanted to come to live a different life in the United States.
"I was making 348 Cuban pesos," he subsequently added. "When they convert it to dollars, it ends up being 15 dollars a month. Imagine what you could do as a person with 15 dollars a month."
Still, that striking poverty was not the only factor behind his decision to leave Cuba. There was a time when Hinojosa wrestled with the question of whether or not to pursue a career in the big leagues, unsure whether his abilities would translate so clearly.
But the success of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in the big leagues with Oakland -- a player with whom the pitcher had played in international competition, and whom he'd pitched against in Cuba's Serie Nacional, at times dominating him (most notably in the 2011 playoffs for Guantanamo against Cespedes' Granma team) -- convinced Hinojosa that he could succeed at the highest levels of competition, a notion reinforced by the early raves that were being elicited by Yusiel Puig at the start of his pro career.
"That was a huge inspiration for me," said Hinojosa. "Up until that point, I had some doubts and I wasn't sure I wanted to make the decision. But after watching the experience of those two players, I felt like I could do it. I played with those two. This showed me that I could make a life for myself here and have success. It really served as an inspiration for me to watch them and was really the key in my decision."
Hinojosa was aware of what that decision represented and the challenges it would necessitate. He would have to sever ties to much of the life he'd known. The undertaking became less drastic by virtue of his ability to defect with his wife and subsequently to bring his mother with him.
Still, despite a personality that is described as both outgoing and engaging by members of the Red Sox organization, he is continuing to adjust from a world in which he moved with ease amongst a far-reaching network of friends and family to one where he has been surrounded almost exclusively by his immediate family.
"It's been a tough transition, especially talking about the community aspect of life here in the United States," said Hinojosa. "In Cuba, I was always very close with those around me. As a community, we were always in touch with each other and talking. It's a little bit different here. But it's a transition that, for me, is not going to be hard. I'm going to dedicate myself to life here, making myself feel comfortable here.
"But one thing that has been very difficult," he added with amusement, "is that I'm still getting used to the taxes."
The mixture of seriousness and playfulness has characterized the right-hander in his introduction to the Red Sox.
On the mound, he's been a picture of concentration and determination. While the standard spring training drills -- elements like practicing pickoff throws and pitchers fielding practice (PFPs) -- represent novelties, he treats them purposefully and enthusiastically.
"This is a very different baseball environment than the one he experienced. They're different," said Sox manager John Farrell. "Not to say one is better than the other, but it's a different one. He's appreciative of the level of detail that our schedule has and some of the finer points, whether it's pickoffs or bunt plays. Those are things that are somewhat new to him, but it's been a very positive impression."
That impression has been furthered by his comportment with his new teammates. In the clubhouse, he's been forming bonds quickly, not merely limiting himself to the company of fellow Spanish-speaking players.
While there are plenty of off-the-field adjustments that remain in progress, among his fellow baseball players, Hinojosa has rejoiced in an unfamiliar dynamic, where differences of upbringing and nationality have dissolved in favor of a shared purpose, where camaraderie has taken precedence over internal competition for roster spots.
"That's been one of the experiences that I've found to be the best so far, starting off when I went to Boston for the Rookie Development Program," said Hinojosa. "Right away, I could see why this team won the world championship. There was a unity among the organization, among the players that were up there. They were trying to help each other. They were trying to push each other. It was just a great environment. That has continued here in spring training. I have felt very comfortable. The team has welcomed me and also allowed me to be one of the guys in the clubhouse. One of the things I've noticed is they don't treat people differently because one guy is a major leaguer and another guy is a minor leaguer. They are constantly trying to help each other and push each other and really there is support amongst all the players in the organization.
"Unfortunately," he added, "we really didn't have that kind of unity and brotherhood in Cuba. It just didn't really exist on the team. But right away, since I came here, I've felt accepted. I think some of the guys have told me that I'm one of the Cubans they've met who has been able to come right in, be himself, be part of the team. That's the kind of person that I am. I like to joke around. I like to have a good relationship with my teammates. I think that this is such an important theme. When one team has many members and they're all working towards a specific goal, and that's to win a championship, things have to turn out better that way. If everyone is working towards the same goal, that's what being a team is about, and I've felt very comfortable here."
Hinojosa has marveled at the discipline and focus of the team's workouts, suggesting that what is described as a daily routine has been anything but for him. Baseball culture in Cuba is less structured, less rigid and often more demonstrative; the 27-year-old suggests he will work to find a balance between his two baseball worlds.
"There is definitely a lot of joy, and really in Cuba it's about passion -- the people, the culture, they have passion for the game of baseball," said Hinojosa. "I don't think that it's necessarily a bad thing that it's different here, but I'm going to take that passion and that joy that I have for playing baseball and put it into my focus and concentration because this is where I want to play. This is the highest level.
"Back in Cuba, when you're playing in the league, you might face a team with one or two good hitters. When you're talking about major league baseball, major league hitters, on a team, you're going to be facing lots of them. I need to use the focus and concentration that I have been working on and the passion that I have for baseball to have success here."
He's formed an impression of what it takes to succeed here, made sense of the baseball transition. He's still working to achieve the same sense of place away from the ballpark, trying to comprehend his new life and new country.
Even his newfound wealth -- it would have taken him more than 22,000 years in Cuba at his monthly salary to match the earnings that he received with one stroke of the pen for his signing bonus of $4 million -- is at times puzzling.
"I'm still trying to understand exactly what it means," Hinojosa noted. "I feel fortunate that it is a blessing that I can do what I love to do and do what I'm good at and get paid that amount of money. I also feel fortunate that I was given this bonus and that I've been responsible with it. I was given it at a certain age where I know how to save it and how to make it last."
That task will become far easier with on-field success that would provide him with the opportunity to further his earnings. He is determined to see his abilities play out, to show that he does indeed belong at the highest level in the States.
In order to do so, however, Hinojosa -- who typically ranked among the top Cuban hurlers in the Serie National -- will have to prove his readiness. He signed a minor league deal and, though he's currently in big league camp with an opportunity to make an impression on Red Sox officials, he's almost certainly slated to open the year in Triple-A as a depth option.
It's been years since Hinojosa has competed at anything but the highest level. Yet he welcomes the opportunity to prove himself with the Red Sox.
"Like everything in life you've got to start out crawling, and then you start to walk and then you start to run. So I'm prepared," he said. "I believe that starting at a lower level can actually do me some good, that I can take some time to learn. But I always say jokingly, hey, some day I'm going to be where I need to be."
There is a sense of striking certainty in that statement. Hinojosa speaks without doubt that success is within his reach. There is a striking sense of self-assurance in the claim, made more so when appreciating that he is still adapting to a drastically different life from the one he knew.
There have been players from Cuba for whom the cultural transition -- the newfound money and freedom, combined with a less-defined community with whom to process those novelties -- has been overwhelming at times. Many have had reason to second-guess the decision to defect at one time or another, to wonder whether the opportunity was worth the upheaval of their personal lives.
Hinojosa is not among them.
"When I made the decision, I also made the decision that I would not look back," said Hinojosa. "I was going to focus on what I was doing, and I believed that if I did that, things would work out well for me. At no time have I thought that I made the wrong decision because I've been so focused."
He is forward-looking, yet appreciative of this opportunity, of the idea that he is now a part of an organization that won a championship and that is in the formative stages of pursuing another one. The opportunity to wear a Red Sox uniform this spring -- he is currently wearing No. 94, the same number he wore in Cuba, though he suggests that he will eventually change it to a more standard issue for pitchers -- represents not just a milestone but motivation.
"It was very special for me [to put on a uniform for the first time]. I even took some photos and sent them to my parents," he said. "I took photos all over the clubhouse [at JetBlue Park], even in the bathroom, and sent them out, because it's a really impressive place, especially after the season they had with winning the championship, this has been an unbelievable experience.
"I feel great physically. I'm prepared physically, mentally. Each day I wake up and tell my wife and my mother, OK, I'm going to the ballpark, I'm going to try to achieve my goal, I'm going to work towards my goal, which is to pitch at the highest level and to represent this organization the best that I can, this organization to which I owe everything because they've given me this opportunity."