Cuban Player Defects to U.S.

Wednesday, July 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) — After a failed attempt to reach the United States last month, Cuban baseball star Andy Morales tried again and made it. He was in federal custody Wednesday after landing in the Florida Keys.

Morales and eight other Cuban migrants were picked up Tuesday by the U.S. Border Patrol in the Marquesas, a group of islands near Key West.

``We're just amazed at this kid having so much courage to not only do it once but twice,'' his sports agent, Gus Dominguez said. ``He certainly deserves a future here in the United States.''

Morales, a 25-year-old third baseman, hit a home run last year in a 12-6 victory by the Cuban national team over the Orioles in Baltimore.

The group is being held temporarily at Krome Detention Center and are being questioned about whether they were smuggled into Florida, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Joe Mellia said.

During preliminary interviews, some members of the group said they paid $5,000 to be brought to the United States, Mellia said. It is not yet clear when the group will be released, although he said it will not before Thursday.

Morales and 30 other Cubans were refused asylum and sent back to Cuba after being picked up at sea by a Coast Guard cutter near Key West last month. Cubans who actually land in the United States are generally allowed to stay after brief immigration processing.

Morales's wife, Daiyana, and their infant were not believed to have made this trip, Dominguez said. They are awaiting approval from the Cuban government for an already U.S.-approved migration to this country.

His wife's relatives and other friends gathered outside the detention center Wednesday awaiting his release.

Carlos Castillo, Morales's father-in-law, was upset with INS officials for not immediately releasing him. He said the family plans to live with Morales in Miami.

``I don't understand why they won't turn him over to us,'' Castillo said. ``There are cases of contraband every day that come into the United States and they let them go. I don't understand what makes Andy's case different.''

Morales hopes to follow other Cuban national team members who have defected to play baseball in the United States. They 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.

About 35 Cuban baseball players have defected in the past 10 years.

Morales' agent did not address the question of which U.S. team his client might want to play for.

``We're just trying to make sure he stays in the country and gets asylum,'' Dominguez said.