Cuba Culture

Top Cuban Pitcher Maels Rodriguez Defects

Posted October 31, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

Associated Press

MIAMI—One of Cuba’s top pitchers, Maels Rodriguez, has defected in an undisclosed country so he can begin playing professionally in the United States, a Cuban exile leader said Friday.

Rodriguez and another player, Yobal Duenas, were reported missing by Cuban authorities Saturday and they both apparently left the island in a speed boat.

“They’re safe,” said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. He declined further comment.

Rodriguez, a 24-year-old right-handed pitcher, is one of Cuba’s top pitchers, but recent rumors have signaled he may have injured his pitching arm. Cuban media report Rodriguez’ fastball regularly tops 100 mph.

He set the single-season strikeout record in Cuba with 263 in 178 1/3 innings three years ago. This season, he was 8-3 in 113 innings with 117 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.11. Cuban officials left him off the Pan American Games and Olympic qualifying teams, blaming arm and back injuries for the loss of 15 mph off his fastball.

“I’ll demonstrate ŘI’m healthy›,” Rodriguez said in an interview Thursday on Miami Spanish-language radio station WQBA-AM. “I’m going to demonstrate that I can still throw 100. These are things that they invent to cut a little off the careers of some athletes.”

Duenas, a second baseman, is a former Cuban stolen base champion who, at 31, is on the down side of a career that saw him debut in the Cuban national league at 17.

If the players seek political asylum or residency outside the United States, they likely will be declared free agents by major league baseball and be able to sign with any team.

The players’ Miami-based agent, Henry Vilar, did not return telephone messages seeking comment Friday. (AP)

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