Cuban Defector Courted by Ball Clubs

Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) — Days after he defected to the United States, Cuban baseball star Andy Morales is already being courted by major league teams, his agent said.

Morales, who landed Tuesday near Key West with eight others, was released to his family members on Thursday evening, after his immigration paperwork was processed.

Morales, 24, was planning to stay in Miami with his father-in-law while he pursues his baseball career.

``I am happy to be here. I am just very nervous from the trip,'' Morales said Thursday after he was examined at a county clinic. Dressed in sneakers, green jogging pants and a T-shirt, Morales kissed his fingers and touched the ground outside the clinic as reporters watched.

``On the way over here, we got three phone calls from major league teams, wanting to confirm that Andy was here, and asking us to call them,'' said his agent, Gus Dominguez. He declined to name the teams.

``We're elated, and happy for him and his family,'' Dominguez said, adding that Morales had no team preference yet. ``Right now we are just taking it day by day.''

Morales, a third-baseman, caught the eye of baseball fans when he hit a home run in Baltimore last year in a 12-6 victory by the Cuban national team over the Baltimore Orioles.

Morales' wife and their 7-month-old son remain in Cuba, awaiting approval from the Cuban government to leave for the United States, said Rene Guim, publicist for Dominguez.

Morales could go to another country to try to get a work visa so he can negotiate with major league clubs as a free agent, or he could enter baseball's amateur draft and risk being selected by a team he might not want to play for. Guim said no decision had been made on which path he would take.

Cuban ballplayers who play on U.S. teams include New York Yankees pitcher Orlando ``El Duque'' Hernandez, his half brother, San Francisco Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez, and New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez.

Morales tried to enter the United States last month, along with 30 other Cubans, but they were picked up at sea by a Coast Guard cutter and sent back to Cuba.

Under U.S. policy, Cubans who land in the United States are generally allowed to stay, but if they are intercepted at sea they are sent back.