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Second Cuban Pitcher Defects In A Week

August 13, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ A 16-year-old pitcher for the Cuban junior Olympic team became the second team member to defect to the United States in a week with the help of a popular sports agent who specializes in Cuban baseball players.

Osmani Fernandez defected Sunday morning in Fairview Heights, Ill., where he was taking part in the Junior Pan American Baseball Championships. He was expected to make his first public appearance as a defector today, said Rene Guim, spokesman for Miami-based sports agent Joe Cubas.

``He is the No. 1 pitcher in that age category of the juniors in the Cuban national team. The young man has an incredible fast ball and a great sinker,″ Guim said. ``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 to this country, Guim said.

Cubas may also declare Fernandez, who has been playing baseball since the age of 9, a free agent in order to be eligible to play for major league teams.

Fernandez, who has an 89 mph fastball, left behind his parents and younger brothers in Cuba.

The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Fernandez 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 _ that he wanted freedom.

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