There have been so many escapes by Cuban baseball players and boxers that they have stopped being news. The stories behind some of these defections could make a Hollywood script.
From the late-90’s land and sea odyssey of Havana pitcher Orlando “Duque” Hernandez, who signed with the New York Yankees, to the unusual escape of the fabulous shortstop Rey Ordóñez, who jumped over a wall during his team’s warmup in a tournament in Buffalo, New York, in 1993.
Within the plot of an escape there is a blend of diverse ingredients. There’s a bit of everything: human traffickers, drug cartels, and sports scouts.
Some rafter-ballplayers have tried escaping several times. When caught, they opt for the mea culpa traditional in authoritarian societies.
There is talk of repealing the embargo barriers that keep Cuban athletes from competing in ball clubs in the United States. But let’s not be naive. The olive-green autocracy loves to play the role of victim.
Before discussing whether Major League Baseball or the professional boxing associations should review their policies for hiring Cuban athletes, the regime should be required to give financial freedom to the athletes.
Let everyone choose their own representative. And set a tax rate similar to that of other nations. It is hard to accuse the team owners of using their athletes as merchandise when the state is doing the same thing.
Even more embarrassing: until last year, coaches and athletes with foreign contracts only received 15% of the money they earned.
Now the state is trying to negotiate with the Major League owners, because the contracts of Cuban ballplayers totalling more than $600 million is a good excuse for fattening its bank accounts.
People in Cuba enthusiastically follow the performance of Pito Abreu or Dayán Viciedo, who started the season with hot bats. Abreu, the home run leader with 10, stokes the dreams of Creole fans.
Fans on this side of the straits want to have a home-run version of the Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera or the Dominican Papi Ortiz. And they believe this man’s last name is Abreu. But the passion goes beyond sport.
There is currently an issue inspiring debate in every corner of Cuba. Many do not approve of the alleged accusations used by Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig to camouflage their future intentions.
This human damage caused by the revolution of Fidel Castro, of encouraging anonymous reports, tip-offs, and confessions, is a clear sign of the ethical and moral decline in society today.
Some Cubans would betray their mother for a trip abroad, a government apartment, or a vacation on the beach. As with lab rats, regime officials used the bait of “prizes” to divide.
Some local athletes, on their way to stardom in foreign clubs, have left people in jail, accused of promoting the “defection of athletes.” This conduct cannot be justified by the reprehensible behavior of a segment of human beings who climb to high position by trampling on corpses.
It is always sad when our sports idols act so miserably. I sincerely hope that Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman can prove their innocence.
We all make mistakes. But some faults can cause reputations to suffer. One of them is betrayal.
Photo: Taken from “Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers,” published in LA Magazine.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
10 May 2014