Record 12 Cuban baseball players defect in Mexico

Cuba’s national baseball team returns to Havana from the U23 World Cup with just half of its squad after a record 12-player defect during the tournament in Mexico. CANAL CARIBE via AFP

The Cuban national baseball team returned to Havana from the Under-23 World Cup on Monday with just half of the roster after a record 12-player defected during the tournament in Mexico.

Cuba finished fourth in the tournament, won by Venezuela, despite playing part of the tournament with a smaller roster.

It was the largest desertion by an itinerant Cuban team in history, defeating the five defectors in 1996 by members of the Industriales club while also participating in a tournament in Mexico.

This tournament “will be remembered as the ‘deserters’ world championship,” Cuban baseball journalist Francys Romero said on Twitter.

Cuban baseball has long been plagued by desertion, as the wealth on offer abroad, especially in Major League Baseball, entices many young stars who can only earn fame by staying at home.

Cuba rarely allows any of its sports stars to play for foreign teams, especially those in the United States, which has imposed a complete embargo on the island nation since 1962.

The MLB is the richest baseball league in the world and Cubans who want to play in it must defect.

Former stars like Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras and Kendrys Morales, as well as current players Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman and Yulieski Gurriel have all defected to play in the MLB.

The island has also lost many of its top boxers to defections, including Olympic gold medalists Guillermo Rigondeaux, Joel Casamayor and Yuriorkis Gamboa.

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