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Second Cuban Pitcher Defects in a Week

August 12, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ A 16-year-old pitcher for the Cuban junior Olympic team defected to the United States, the second team member to do so in a week.

Osmani Fernandez defected Sunday in Fairview Heights, Ill., where he was taking part in the Junior Pan American Baseball Championships.

He was expected to arrive in Miami late Monday, said Rene Guim, spokesman for Miami sports agent Joe Cubas.

``He is the No. 1 pitcher in that age category of the juniors in the Cuban national team,″ Guim said. ``The young man has an incredible fastball and a great sinker. He needs freedom. And that is something he will never have in Cuba.″

Cubas will try to get Fernandez residency in the United States or some other country, and will encourage the teen-ager to finish high school and seek college scholarships in this country, Guim said.

Cubas may also declare Fernandez a free agent to be eligible to play for major league teams. Fernandez, 5-foot-10 and 155 pound, has an 89 mph fastball.

Fernandez left behind his parents and younger brothers in Cuba. He reportedly told Cubas he wanted to pitch against the United States on Saturday before defecting. He lasted 5 1-3 innings in Cuba’s 5-2 loss.

A week ago Sunday, Fernandez’s teammate, Yalian Serrano, defected saying virtually the same thing _ he wanted freedom.

Serrano, who turns 16 this week and was the Cuban team’s top catcher, said during his first public appearance Friday he too was leaving behind his family.

Both players defected with the help of Cubas, who previously helped in the defection of San Francisco Giants pitcher Osvaldo Fernandez and Livan Hernandez, who pitches for the Florida Marlins’ Double A team in Portland, Maine.

The defections are additional daggers directed at the Cuban sports system. In the past month, the Olympic baseball team lost its top pitcher, Rolando Arrojo, who also defected and is being represented by Cubas.

Cubas did not immediately return a telephone message Monday. Fernandez was on the road Monday and could not be reached.

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