Never before had a Cuban baseball team suffered seven defections during an international tournament.
The figure was recorded during the elimination round of the Under 23 World Championship held in Ciudad Obregon, in the Mexican state of Sonora.
The tournament, sponsored by the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC), has entered the so-called Super Round with the six best qualified teams, among which Cuba was able to enter despite the losses that, if they continue to progress, could jeopardize the permanence of the Caribbean team in the competition.
Starting on Wednesday, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, Panama, Venezuela and Taiwan will play the Super Round in the city of Hermosillo, almost 1,900 kilometers from the Mexican capital. The top two teams in this new phase will play for the title in a final match on Saturday.
The highest number of withdrawals for a Cuban team in this sport was recorded in 1996, also in Mexico, with five players.
The road to the U.S. border is the usual thing for Cuban athletes once they leave their official delegations on Mexican soil.
So far this year, ten top Cuban baseball players have left the team abroad. Last May, three players, pitchers Lazaro Blanco and Andy Rodriguez, and infielder Cesar Prieto, stayed in Miami during the Pre-Olympic Tournament of the Americas in Florida.
In that tournament, Cuba, three-time Olympic baseball champion, was eliminated and became the great absentee from the Tokyo 2020 tournament won by Japan.
The latest leak in Ciudad Obregon was confirmed on Tuesday morning, when left-handed pitcher Yeinel Zayas did not show up to take the bus in front of the hotel that houses the Caribbean team and that would take him to the stadium where the competition will be held.
Likewise, before Zayas, pitchers Luis Dennys Morales, Uber Mejías, and Danel Fernández, catcher Loidel Rodríguez, outfielder Reinaldo Lazaga and infielder Diasmany Palacios had also escaped.
The team has suddenly seen its roster reduced to 17 players, with a single change player for defense, two catchers in a position where the risk of injury is high, and seven pitchers, to face five games before reaching the medal discussion.
The team’s manager, Eriel Sanchez, tried to minimize the situation he is going through, although he acknowledged that he has been forced to alter plans and demand maximum effort from the players.
“We have to sacrifice every athlete to achieve the result,” he said in allusion to the effort of his pitcher. left-hander Naykel Cruz, whom he kept on the mound for six innings with more than the stipulated 100 pitches. “I’ll apologize to him.”
After losing to defending champion Mexico on Friday, Cuba was able to string together four wins against Taiwan, Germany, Czech Republic and Dominican Republic.
The head of the Cuban delegation, Luis Daniel del Risco, declared that “despite the fact that many people want to put an end to our baseball, we are not going to let that happen,” in clear reference to the defections.
Cuban authorities blame the leaks on former President Donald Trump’s decision to disable an agreement that the Cubans had reached with Major League Baseball at the end of Barack Obama’s term.
The agreement allowed baseball players from the island to participate in the U.S. Major League Baseball system without the need to defect.
Trump considered that the Cuban Baseball Federation was not really a Non-Governmental Organization, but an extension of the Cuban Government.