To many of us, July 4th means a day off, sunshine, the beach, cookouts and fireworks.

To Orlando Cabrera, July 4th means something different this year than it ever has before.

It means a little blue book he takes everywhere he goes: his U.S. passport.

The 36-year-old Cleveland Indians infielder celebrated his first Fourth of July as an American citizen after getting sworn in only a few weeks ago in his home state of South Carolina.

"I love to travel around the world," Cabrera said by phone Sunday from Cincinnati. "I don't need permission anymore. I can go anywhere I want and be welcome. I feel I'm enjoying something this year that is bigger than anything else in the world -- to be a part of this wonderful country."

Cabrera was never ashamed of his native country of Colombia, but traveling was a hassle in ways most Americans can't fathom. It went far beyond the annoyances of dealing with the TSA.

"Being from Colombia, with all the problems and the stuff you hear about drug wars, they're always skeptical, looking for stuff," Cabrera said. "You can never understand why. Why do they have to treat me this way? I wanted to become a U.S. citizen and see how they treat me."

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Cabrera studied hard for his citizenship test in the spring, even practicing the Pledge of Allegiance in the Indians clubhouse before games.

"Even before I took the test," he said, "my interest in U.S. history was great. I read a bunch of books about it. And the story of July 4th, it's incredible. A bunch of guys got together and fought for what they believe. The meaning of signing the Declaration in 1776 -- right now we still believe in what those guys wrote."

Cabrera was granted two games off in late May so he could travel to take the test. He passed. But he said the accomplishment didn't hit him until he was back in Cleveland and that little blue booklet arrived.

"Indescribable," Cabrera said about seeing his name in a U.S. passport. "You get that feeling that the world is yours. That's when everything sinks in."

His first chance to flash his new credentials came on a team trip to Toronto. He said the story of his citizenship status was so widely known by then that the custom officials in Canada knew about it and greeted him warmly when he got to the front of the line.

"It was awesome," Cabrera said.

He worked on July 4. The Indians were home against, of all teams, the Yankees. They beat the visitors from the Bronx, 6-3, with Cabrera getting a couple of hits. So there was no cookout. But Cabera's two daughters, ages 16 and 13, flew up from Miami to watch their dad and be with him afterward. They are already permanent U.S. residents, but Cabrera needs to go through the process of getting them passports as well. That starts this week.

"The opportunities in life are going to open up," Cabrera said of his daughters. "It's going to be incredible for them. I can tell them, 'You can go anywhere you want. Any school, anywhere. It's your future.' "

"I'm really proud, man. Really proud."

Eric Adelson can be reached at adelson@yahoo-inc.com.

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