Cuban Player Vanishes in Minn.

Monday, May 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Cuban college baseball player remained missing today while his teammates said they were trying hard not to be distracted by his possible defection.

``We came to the States to have a sports exchange and academics exchange, not to have a migration exchange,'' team captain Osmar Ernesto Fernandez said Sunday through an interpreter.

Mario Miguel Chaoui was last seen getting into a waiting car outside the Humphrey Terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Saturday afternoon, shortly after the team arrived to return a visit by the University of St. Thomas baseball team last winter.

The mood Sunday was sedate among members of ``Equipo Caribe,'' or Team Caribbean in English, which is composed mostly of students from the University of Havana and some students from a technical institute in the Cuban capital.

As he toured the state Capitol on Sunday, Fernandez struggled to explain why his teammate would leave.

``We don't know why he has made this decision,'' said Fernandez, 26, who has known Chaoui since boyhood. ``In Cuba, we have everything we need.''

Fernandez said the team was trying to downplay the distraction as it prepared for a game against St. Thomas at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on Tuesday. But he acknowledged anger many players felt upon hearing the news.

``Our first reaction was rage. We were a little bit upset,'' he said.

Neither the Cuban team, St. Thomas officials or the Immigration and Naturalization Service had heard from Chaoui since the car sped off from the airport, officials said.

Doug Hennes, a St. Thomas spokesman, said the school has been in contact with the INS, but the agency has limited authority in such cases.

``They can't do much other than wait for phone calls,'' Hennes said. ``Legally, the guy is in the United States on a 30 day visa, so he is not breaking any laws. He is away without leave from the team.''

The Rev. Dennis Dease, the president of St. Thomas, who has worked hard to build connections between his school and the Cuban people, told reporters Sunday evening that the INS has asked the university to remain neutral.

``I'm just hoping that the young man will check in with us or immigration in the next few days,'' Dease said.

The last time a Cuban team of college players came to the United States was in 1987 when a national team played several games at the Metrodome.