First baseman and outfielder Kendry Morales, considered by some to be Cuba’s top young player, has defected to the United States.
U.S. immigration officials in Miami confirmed Wednesday that Morales had arrived in the United States and was allowed to stay.
“Kendry called home on Tuesday, he said he was well, that he arrived in the United States, and that we should not worry,” said his stepfather, Henry Nunez. “He didn’t say exactly where he was, only that he was calm and now what he wants to do more than anything is play baseball.”
Morales, a switch-hitter, is said to be 20. Nunez said it was his stepson’s eighth attempt to leave Cuba.
“The circumstances made him do it,” the stepfather said. “The only thing he wants is to be allowed to play baseball.”
The Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald of Miami reported Wednesday that Morales and 18 others left Cuba over the weekend aboard a boat bound for South Florida.
Morales was taken into custody Monday at Miami’s Krome Detention Center and freed in the United States a few hours later, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said Wednesday.
Under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, most Cuban citizens who arrive in the United States can stay in the country and can apply for legal U.S. residency after one year. However, most baseball players establish residency outside the United States in order to become free agents rather than be subject to the amateur draft.
Cuba’s National Baseball Commission cut Morales from the national team early this year for “lack of discipline” following reports that he had tried to leave the island several times.
During Olympic qualifying last November in Panama, Morales returned to Cuba for what was officially described as “personal reasons.”
Playing with Havana’s popular Industriales team, Morales hit .324 last year with 21 homers.