2 Cuban baseball players abandon team in Puerto Rico

AP News
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Posted: Feb 04, 2015 4:00 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Two Cuban baseball players in Puerto Rico for the Caribbean Series apparently have abandoned their team mid-tournament, Cuba's team said Wednesday.

The missing players were identified as 19-year-old pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez and 29-year-old shortstop Dainer Moreira. Gutierrez had not yet played in the series, while Moreira batted in Cuba's only run against the Dominican Republic.

Cuba was scheduled to play against Puerto Rico Wednesday night after losing its first two games against the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

The players' apparent decision to abandon their team to stay on American soil comes amid moves to improve US-Cuba relations, with the MLB on Tuesday eliminating its requirement that Cuban players obtain a license from the U.S. government before they are eligible to sign with big league teams.

"That decision is a betrayal to the revolution, to their family, to their homeland. It's an exchange of shame for money," Jorge Polo, vice president of Cuba's National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, said in a statement published by Cuba's state media.

Juan Francisco Puello, commissioner of the Caribbean Confederation of Professional Baseball, said in a statement that the confederation will not get involved.

"This is a private matter," he said. "They are under no obligation to report anything to us."

Some Cuban athletes have previously used international competitions as an opportunity to stay behind. Puerto Rico is an American territory, and Cubans who make it to the island generally can apply for legal U.S. residency.

If they stay in Puerto Rico, the players would be subject to baseball's amateur draft and their rights would be controlled by one major league team. But if they establish residence outside the U.S., Puerto Rico, or Canada, they can be free agents and get more lucrative contract offers.