(ATR) With the first chapter of visas closed, the Cuban baseball team faces another and more dramatic episode in Florida: desertions.
The first one happened just hours after the team landed at Miami International Airport from Havana.
He was not just any player. The infielder César Prieto, 22 years old, considered the best prospect in the team, did not wait for games against Venezuela, Canada and Colombia in group B of the Americas Pre-Olympic.
Prieto, a native of Cienfuegos, more than 220 kilometers southeast of Havana, was the leader of the hitters in the last Cuban National Series where he broke the record for the most consecutive games with a hit (45). He was the lead-off batter and starting second baseman for the Cuban national team.
His escape means manager Armando Ferrer and his coaches will need to redesign the line-up. He now will have to resort to an unscheduled substitution four days before the opening game against Venezuela.
According to various sources, the player took a car that was allegedly waiting for him after getting off the bus in front of the team hotel in West Palm Beach, after an hour and a half drive from Miami.
For the first time in 60 years, a Cuban national baseball team plays a tournament so close to the so-called "heart of the Cuban exile".
The World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC), responsible for the event, does not usually comment on these cases.
At the moment, the entity chaired by the Italian Riccardo Fraccari, who cooperated with the visa procedures of the Cuban team, is immersed in the final preparations for the Pre-Olympic of the Americas in the counties of Palm Beach and St Lucie, from May 31 to June 5. Health protocols are a special emphasis.
A source close to the WBSC said that the vaccination process of the delegations is also being monitored and conversations are being developed with Mexican officials to set the dates and the host city of the World Pre-Olympic Games. This tournament, which will decide the sixth and last Olympic ticket, was due to open in Taiwan on June 16 but a strong outbreak of Covid-19 forced a change of venue to Mexico.
In a statement initially released on the official website of the National Sports Institute (INDER), the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) confirmed the player's desertion and assured that he "generated repudiation among his companions and other members of the delegation."
The note implies that most of the players will not abandon the team and will fulfill their commitment to continue fighting for the Olympic qualification. The statement blamed the disabling of the FCB's deal with Major League Baseball as the cause of the defections.
The agreement signed between both parties was suspended by President Donald Trump in April 2019 on the grounds that the FCB was part of the communist government of Cuba.
The agreement was intended to allow the inclusion of Cuban players into Major League Baseball without the need to defect.
Despite the confidence expressed by the FCB in the statement, the flight of Prieto increases fears of new defections that endanger not only an Olympic classification, which has not been predicted by many, but the image of the delegation.
In a month, the Cuban national soccer team will travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to compete in a knockout group for the Gold Cup in the United States, organized by Concacaf.
Baseball and soccer players have led the exodus of Cuban sports defections to the United States in recent decades.
Written and reported by Miguel Hernandez
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