BRADENTON — On Monday, baseball player Jose Tabata told his teammates he was excited about finally getting to hold the newborn daughter his wife had told him about, the baby girl she'd shown off in photos.
The 20-year-old did meet a 2-month-old baby girl for the first time early this week, but Tuesday afternoon he learned the baby wasn't his.
And he found out that his 43-year-old wife, Amalia Tabata Pereira, was a felon, now accused of stealing a Plant City baby from the arms of a scared Mexican mother.
A month earlier, another mother told Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies that Pereira had tried to steal her newborn, too.
What does a man do when he learns his entire marriage has been a lie?
"I believe that the only correct thing in this moment," Tabata told a group of reporters Friday afternoon, "is to tell the truth."
The Venezuelan outfielder didn't cry. He didn't shake. He just carefully read a statement in Spanish that he penned a day earlier in a dorm room in Pirate City, the Pittsburgh Pirates Bradenton headquarters where his minor league team has been spring training.
"The truth is," he said, "that my wife told me many lies that, until this whole situation began, I did not know. One that hurt me a lot was her history as a criminal, that she had spent years in prison, that she had robbed and committed fraud.
"But the worst lie was that she completely falsified her pregnancy and the eventual birth of a baby girl, which would have made me a father for the first time. Imagine how that made me feel."
Tabata says that he is relieved the baby was returned and that he decided to share his story because he believes it's what his hero, baseball legend Roberto Clemente, would have done.
Authorities told him not to reveal details of Pereira's criminal case or their history together, he said.
So, many questions remain.
How did the rising baseball star meet the convicted felon? Did he know she has four children? Did he even know her age?
How could she fake a pregnancy and a birth?
A spokesman with the team said Tabata's schedule involved a lot of travel — two months in Pennsylvania, a four-month winter league stint in Venezuela and now, spring training in Bradenton.
This baby girl wasn't the first he thought he was having. In a 2007 player journal entry on minorleaguebaseball.com he wrote: My wife and I generally stay home when I'm not playing. We're expecting twins this winter, and my mother will come to help out.
Hillsborough records show little of Tabata's relationship with Pereira. They were evicted from a Tampa apartment in October 2007. They married in January 2008, at an Amscot.
Team officials say that Tabata has connected with counselors and that he will cooperate with authorities. "This news was one of the hardest blows I have had in my life," Tabata said. "I will never be able to forgive her for her cruel actions."
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Taina Lopez hadn't seen Pereira for over a decade. But Pereira reconnected with her old church acquaintance on MySpace.
When Lopez gave birth in January, she posted baby photos on her profile. Immediately, Lopez says, Pereira messaged about how beautiful the baby was, saying they should have lunch.
The following month, the women bumped into each other at a North Tampa health clinic. About a week later, Lopez got a phone call, telling her she had another appointment at the clinic on Feb. 19. Bring the baby, the woman told her.
When she got there, the clinic had no record of an appointment. But out on the sidewalk, Pereira was waiting. This is what Lopez says happened next:
Pereira told her she needed a ride and got in her car. Once inside, Pereira told her a gunman in a truck was waiting for her.
"Go!" Pereira screamed in Spanish.
As Lopez drove, Pereira told her men were waiting at Lopez's house to kill her and the baby. She wanted to take her to safety.
Lopez's husband owed someone drug money, Pereira told her. Lopez didn't believe any of it. She stopped at a gas station and made Pereira get out.
Lopez says Pereira cried and said she was just trying to help, begging her not to go to the police. But Lopez did, three times. Yet none of those times did the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office file a report.
Spokeswoman Debbie Carter said a front desk deputy vaguely remembered her. "She said she knew the woman. There was no crime. They went their separate ways and that was the end."
Lopez says deputies didn't act even after Pereira called, telling her she wasn't trying to steal her baby. Someone was offering her $10,000 to steal Lopez's car, Pereira said.
When Lopez saw the Amber Alert for the Plant City baby, abducted outside a health clinic by a woman posing as an immigration official, she called Plant City police. Soon after, Pereira was arrested on charges of false imprisonment, interfering with custody and impersonating a public officer. She remains in Orient Road Jail in lieu of $750,000 bail.
Lopez says she wants more charges added to Pereira's list, and has retained a lawyer.
She says deputies could have prevented the kidnapping if they had listened to her last month.
"They treated me like my life, my safety was of no value," she said. "I want an apology."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Justin George contributed to this report.