When designated hitter Andy Morales capped Cuba's 12-6 win over
the Orioles last year with a three-run homer, he celebrated with
an ebullient, high-stepping prance around the diamond, after
which Baltimore's B.J. Surhoff remarked, "The guy was running
around the bases like an idiot." On June 7, Morales, 24, got his
brushback pitch: He became the first prominent Cuban athlete ever
sent back to his country by the U.S. government.
One week earlier Morales and 30 others had fled Cuba in a
speedboat, only to be picked up by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter off
the Florida Keys. The INS determined that none of the 31 met the
criterion for political asylum. "If you're interdicted at sea,
you're like everybody else--Haitian, Irish, German, Italian--who's
seeking to be smuggled in as a migrant," says INS spokesman Dan
Kane. "You're going to be repatriated unless you express a
credible fear of persecution."
Critics of Castro claim that prominent Cubans who attempt to flee
face such a threat because the Cuban government is likely to make
examples out of them. "What stronger case can you make [for
asylum] than to say you want to escape?" says Frank Calzon,
executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.
Morales returned to his family near the town of San Nicolas last
Thursday in apparent good health, according to Gus Dominguez, his
L.A.-based agent, who is in contact with a human rights group
monitoring Morales's treatment. Dominguez, whose Total Sports
International represents 18 Cuban players, believes Morales could
start at third base for half the teams in the majors. Pointing
out that Morales's wife's father lives in Miami, Dominguez says,
"Hopefully through legal maneuvering we'll see him in the States
soon." Orioles pitchers will be waiting.