One participant took off from the airport, whereas one other jumped out the window of his lodge room. In all, of the 24 members of Cuba’s nationwide baseball staff who arrived in Mexico for the under-23 World Cup, solely about half got here house.
This 12 months, a document variety of gamers have defected from the communist-run island nation, the place baseball is the nationwide pastime however which is enduring its worst financial disaster in 30 years.
The mass defection is “unprecedented within the historical past of baseball,” Francys Romero, a sports activities journalist who has written a e-book on the phenomenon, informed AFP.
The participant who jumped from his lodge room window? He informed Romero that he shimmied down a palm tree to get to a ready getaway automotive.
Cuban baseball gamers leaving their homeland isn’t new — when skilled sports activities had been upended within the wake of the revolution led by Fidel Castro, many sought higher alternatives overseas.
After a smattering of defections throughout the Chilly Battle, the exodus picked up tempo after the autumn of the Soviet Union within the early Nineties.
Since Rene Arocha left the nationwide staff on the airport in Miami in 1991 for a profession in the US, about two or three gamers a 12 months have abandoned their nation. 9 jumped ship in 1996. These gamers are constantly handled as disloyal traitors.
Some have left legally — an possibility that turned potential with immigration reform in 2013, however which was starkly curtailed when flights had been decreased as a result of coronavirus pandemic.
A who’s who of gamers who turned Main League stars have made the leap, together with Orlando and Livan Hernandez, Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig and present Tampa Bay Rays standout Randy Arozarena.
– ‘Battle’ –
Not solely has the variety of gamers looking for a profession overseas exploded, however their profiles are totally different: they’re youthful and never all the time destined for Main League stardom, in keeping with Romero.
So why are they risking it? “To vary their lives. Sports activities comes after that,” he says.
Those that have left have confronted criticism on social media, however many Cubans have merely wished them nicely — they’re all too conscious of how tough life is in Cuba for the time being, with main shortages of meals and drugs.
Earlier this 12 months, when Cuba’s nationwide staff got here to the US to play Olympic qualifying video games, high expertise Cesar Prieto, two different gamers and the staff psychologist defected.
Cuba, a three-time Olympic champion and 25-time Baseball World Cup winner, failed for the primary time ever to qualify for the Summer season Video games in Tokyo.
For Luis Daniel del Risco, at the moment the highest-ranking official within the Cuban baseball federation, there’s “a warfare” beneath approach to “destroy Cuban baseball.”
He slammed what he referred to as “a harassment marketing campaign” by overseas recruiters, who attend most video games that Cuba performs overseas.
“These folks have entry to the inns (the place the gamers keep), and plenty of of them come simply to contact these younger folks” with proposals to play elsewhere, he stated.
Recruiters additionally name the gamers and ship them messages through WhatsApp, both instantly or by means of their family, Del Risco claimed, saying such overtures prevented gamers from concentrating on the competitors at hand.
– ‘Very sophisticated choice’ –
“I’ve typically heard it stated that the state of baseball in Cuba displays the state of the nation,” says Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura, an enormous baseball fan who has devoted a e-book to interviews with gamers.
“I feel that what occurred is a illustration of what is occurring within the nation, this mass exodus” that has additionally been seen in an uptick within the variety of Cubans attempting to achieve the US on rickety boats through the Straits of Florida.
“It’s important to respect the choice of those younger folks,” added Padura, who helps the Industriales staff in Havana and stated he had all the time dreamed himself of a profession in baseball.
“It is actually a really sophisticated choice to make, as they’re giving up lots.”
They depart “with out their passports, that are held by the delegation,” says Romero. All are barred from coming house to Cuba for eight years.
Del Risco says the gamers “didn’t fulfill their commitments to their teammates and to the nation,” however admits it is a “private choice for every of them.”
For him, there is just one answer: “Give the Cuban gamers the identical alternatives as everybody else.”
“For us to have the ability to play overseas, we have now to desert our nationwide staff, surrender being Cubans — that is not truthful.”
Main League Baseball and the Cuban baseball federation had reached a deal in late 2018 that will have allowed Cubans to play in the US with out having to first defect, however former president Donald Trump scrapped it in 2019.