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Sunday, 22 March, 1998, 18:49 GMT
Defecting Cuban baseball stars rescued
The New York Yankees new star, Orlando Hernandez, who fled from Cuba on a trip to Mexico
The New York Yankees new star, Orlando Hernandez, who fled from Cuba on a trip to Mexico
Four Cuban baseball players who defected more than a week ago and had been feared lost at sea have been rescued and taken to the Bahamas.

The four, with five other people, have been taken to a detention centre in the Bahamas, while an Amerian sports agent, acting on their behalf, appealed for them not to be sent back to Cuba.

The agent, Joe Cubas, has asked Costa Rica to grant the men visas.

The men left Cuba more than a week ago, and subsequent reports said they had been lost at sea or had reached the Dominican Republic.

It now appears they were hiding in Cuba, and spent less than a day at sea, on a small boat trying to reach the United States.

It is thought the players were following the lead of Orlando Hernandez, a pitcher who signed with the New York Yankees last week, having defected from Cuba while on a trip to Mexico.

Lifetime ban

The missing men were last week identified as Jorge Toca, a first baseman, catcher Angel Lopez, second baseman Jorge Olano, Michael Jova and coach Enrique Chinea.

It is thought that the catalyst for the defections was the lifetime ban imposed last year by the Cuban authorities on Jorge Toca because he publicly expressed the desire to join a major American baseball team. It has been reported that his colleagues have also been suspended.

Baseball is as popular in Cuba as it is in the United States, but unlike America its rewards are mostly adulation from the fans: players receive only a few dollars more than the average wage.

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