Iván Prieto González, catcher of Team Cuba’s bullpen for the World Baseball Classic, defected in Miami on Monday, a day after his team lost to Team USA in the semifinals at Loan Depot Park.
Prieto did not show up for the team’s flight to Havana, Cuba, at Miami International Airport, according to the Miami Herald. Jorge Ebro.
Prieto was chosen by the Cuban Baseball Federation to be the team’s bullpen catcher when the team was selected to travel to Taiwan for opening pool play.
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The 26-year-old, who plays first baseman and catcher, had been playing with Alazanes de Granma and Sabuesos de Holguín in Cuba’s National Series League. He spent five seasons in Holguín before moving to Granma for the 2020-21 season.
Prieto also found himself playing for Agricultores in the Cuban Elite League in 2022.
The Cuban team returned to Havana after a 14-2 loss to Team USA, and were greeted with “an official reception by the authorities,” according to the Miami Herald. It was a victorious sight in his eyes for the efforts that were displayed in the WBC.
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“Congratulations admirable #EquipoAsere,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel wrote on Twitter. “You’ve won three times: when you made a team, when you took first place, and when you played to the last out against a great team and hate of the worst kind. They made history. #Cuba looks at them with pride”.
However, Prieto’s decision to defect from Cuba is something many players have done before him. The MLB is full of players who found a way to move to the United States to make their dreams come true as professional baseball players, as Cuba still does not allow.
After the Cuban Revolution, when Fidel Castro came to power, relations between the United States and Cuba became strained, and Castro ended professional baseball in the country.
While the leagues have since returned, many players who want a chance to play in the MLB head to the United States due to the high salaries. But Cuba has seen the defectors as disloyal to the country, leading them all but to repudiate their ties to each other. That, however, led to more defectors over the years.
A famous example was Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, who rose to fame with the New York Yankees during his dynasty run in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was booted from the Cuban national team after defection of his half brother, Liván Hernández.
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The Duke was devastated that the country he was loyal to banned him, leading to his own defection to the United States to continue playing.
Today, players like José Abreu, Aroldis Chapman, Yordan Alvarez, Randy Arozarena and more are among the MLB stars who defected from the communist country. Arozarena also begged Team Mexico to allow him citizenship to play for them instead of his home country, as he initially defected there before beginning his journey in the US.
This year, the Cuban Baseball Federation made the announcement that MLB players who wished to play for the team could do so if they were invited. On the payroll were players like Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert Jr. and Yoenis Céspedes.
Sunday was the first time Team Cuba played baseball in Miami, and many protesters greeted them at LodDepot Park. One ran onto the field with a banner that read “Free the Cuban Prisoners of July 11.”
According to AP, the message meant “Freedom for the Cuban prisoners of July 11.” The message called for the release of protesters who were arrested in 2021 to protest asset shortages, blackouts and economic hardship.
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“It feels bad, but I’m not judging,” Armando Johnson, Team Cuba’s manager, said via AP, when asked how he felt that Cubans didn’t relate to his team. “Like I said, everyone has their own way of thinking. We’re on the field and we come here just to play baseball and the sport. That’s what we wanted to do here.”
Ryan Gaydos of Fox News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.