Fourth member of Cuban baseball delegation defects to US
Highly-touted pitcher Andy Rodriguez became the fourth member of Cuba's baseball delegation to defect to the United States during an Olympic qualification tournament in Florida, the country's baseball federation said Monday.
Two other top players and a team psychologist had already abandoned the delegation during the event, in which Cuba failed to secure an Olympic berth for the first time in its history, losing to Venezuela and Canada.
Rodriguez, 22, plays for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan, and was supposed to head there from the United States on Monday but "chose to violate his contract" with the Japanese team, the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) said in a statement.
Rodriguez only signed with Fukuoka in January but "didn't turn up at the airport," the FCB said in the statement, published in state media.
Before him, Cesar Prieto, one of Cuba's top talents, defected on May 26, just a few hours after arriving in Florida.
Then on Thursday, team psychologist Jorge Sile Figueroa left the delegation, a source told AFP, and the next day, Cuba's top pitcher Lazaro Blanco announced he'd quit the team and would stay in the United States.
"What's important is that I'm happy the decision I've taken is right, I'm going to start a new life now," the 35-year-old Blanco told Telemundo 51 in Miami.
Baseball is Cuba's national sport and the Caribbean nation has won three Olympic titles and 25 World Cups, so its failure to even qualify for the Tokyo Games was a shock
(Top photo of Andy Rodríguez saluting Cuban manager Armando Ferrer/AP)