File photo showing Cuban baseball star Kendry Morales (C) celebrating with teammates after their win over Panama at the baseball World Cup in Havana, on October 25, 2003.
Morales, considered Cuba’s most promising young baseball player, has defected to the United States to pursue his dream of playing in the major leagues, his family said June 9, 2004. Photo by Claudia Daut/Reuters
By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
Kendry Morales, considered Cuba’s most promising young baseball player, has defected to the United States to pursue his dream of playing in the major leagues, his family said on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old switch-hitting slugger had been suspended earlier this year by Cuba’s National Baseball Commission after several foiled attempts to leave the island.
“On Friday he left home with some friends and never came back,” said his stepfather, Henry Nunez, at their home in Las Guasimas on the outskirts of Havana.
“He called yesterday from Miami to say he arrived fine. His dream is to play in the big leagues and now the doors will open for him,” Nunez said.
Miami’s Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald reported on Wednesday that Morales crossed the Florida Straits on Saturday night on a boat with 18 other Cubans, including former baseball coach Orlando Chinea.
The newspaper said U.S. immigration authorities released the two men on Monday afternoon from Krome Detention Center in South Florida.
A Cuban official said Morales had been caught five times trying to leave Cuba clandestinely.
A powerful, versatile player, Morales played right field and second base and more recently was first baseman and cleanup hitter for Cuba in the Baseball World Cup international tournament in Havana last October. His home run with the bases loaded helped secure Cuba’s 6-3 victory over Taiwan in the finals.
In the 2003 Cuban baseball season, Morales batted .391 with nine home runs and 42 runs batted in for national champion Industriales.
His departure was the latest in Cuba’s steady loss of talent lured by stardom and multimillion-dollar contracts to major-league baseball in the United States.
In 2002, the New York Yankees signed one of the best pitchers to leave Cuba in recent years, right-hander Jose Contreras, for $32 million for four years.
In communist-run Cuba, baseball players earn meager wages no higher than $20 a month.
Among Cubans who achieved fame in the United States are pitchers Livan Hernandez, who defected in 1995 and took the Florida Marlins to a World Series victory in 1997, and his half brother Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who starred for the Yankees after his 1997 defection.
In Havana’s Central Park, where baseball fans gather for heated discussions on the sport, Morales was idolized, but his departure came as no surprise.
“It was a just a question of time. It is the best thing the boy could do, leave,” said one old-timer. (Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta)
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