Agent Gus Dominguez said Sunday that Coast Guard officials have told him that Andy Morales, a 24-year-old third baseman and designated hitter, is one of the Cubans aboard the cutter
Coast Guard and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials would not confirm that Sunday. The Coast Guard said the Cubans were aboard a power boat that ran out of fuel Friday.
The Cubans are being interviewed by INS officials on the cutter, INS spokesman Rodney Germain said. Those that might have legitimate claims to political asylum will be brought to the United States for processing, he said, while the others could be returned to Cuba.
Morales would be the latest Cuban national team member to defect, following such current major leaguers as New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez; his half-brother, San Francisco Giant pitcher and 1997 World Series MVP Livan Hernandez; and New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez.
About 35 Cuban baseball players have defected over the last 10 years. Calls to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington on Sunday went unanswered.
In the Cuban national team's 12-6 win over the Orioles last May in Baltimore, Morales delivered the clinching blow, a three-run homer to center field in the ninth inning.
He zoomed around the bases with his arms spread wide, looking like a kid imitating an airplane. Zigzagging his way home, he cheered his teammates in the third base dugout and pointed to the sky before he touched the plate.
Orioles left fielder B.J. Surhoff called him an "idiot." But center fielder Brady Anderson said Morales' behavior didn't offend him, saying, "Maybe that's the biggest home run he'll ever hit in his life. Let him take his home run trot, big deal."
Dominguez, who represents several Cuban players who have defected, said that he spoke to Morales in Baltimore, despite tight security by Cuban officials who feared defections. He said Morales approached him before the game during batting practice.
"I was standing on the rail in left field and he told me he wanted to do something and asked that I help him," Dominguez said. "We couldn't do anything for him then, but we stayed in touch."
But, Dominguez said, he was surprised when Morales' father-in-law called him Saturday and told him the player had defected. He thought Morales would wait until the Cuban team next played in a foreign country.
"But when you are desperate, you will do what it takes," Dominguez said. Morales' wife apparently remains in Cuba, Dominguez said.
Dominguez said it will be up to Morales to decide if he wants to remain in the United States, which would subject him to baseball's amateur draft, or become a free agent by traveling to a third country such as Costa Rica as several Cuban players have done.
Professional sports are banned in Cuba. Top athletes are given favored treatment by the communist government, but salaries and living standards pale beside those of millionaire athletes abroad.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press