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‘El Duque’ Reunited With Family

October 23, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ El Duque’s triumphant return home with the New York Yankees’ championship team was made even more memorable for the Cuban star pitcher.

Orlando ``El Duque″ Hernandez was reunited early today with the family he hasn’t seen in nearly a year.

Hernandez’s mother, two daughters and ex-wife arrived at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on the private jet of team owner George Steinbrenner, NBC reported. Hernandez and his mother wept and hugged each other as friends stood by with bottles of champagne.

The family arrived just in time for today’s parade in New York City to commemorate the Yankees’ World Series victory over the San Diego Padres.

The four were granted permission by Cuba to fly to the United States on Thursday night. The U.S. State Department said the family, which includes Hernandez’s daughters Steffi, 3, and Yahumara, 8, were to have a brief visit before returning to Cuba.

In Havana, Steffi and Yahumara danced on the porch of their cement block home and neighbors hugged the girls’ mother, Manzo Ibanez, after they found out they would be reunited with Hernandez.

They arrived in the New York area after midnight after a stop in Miami on the charter flight from Cuba. They planned to attend today’s World Series parade, said Maria Cubas of Miami, whose husband helped Hernandez defect.

Their trip to the United States was much easier than the one taken by Hernandez, who fled Cuba 10 months ago by climbing onto a rickety raft with his current wife, Noris Bosch, and six others. They landed on a remote Bahamian island and were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Hernandez was signed by the Yankees and pitched them to a 9-3 victory Sunday in Game 2 of the World Series, which New York won in a sweep of San Diego on Wednesday night. He was one of their best pitchers during the regular season, finishing 12-4 with a 3.13 earned run average.

New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor got involved in the effort to get the family to New York after he received a letter from Hernandez on Tuesday asking for the church to intervene with the Cuban government, said Joe Zwilling, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

The cardinal then sent a message to Cuban President Fidel Castro on Wednesday morning on behalf of the baseball player. By the evening, the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations called O’Connor and said Castro would allow the Hernandez family to travel to the United States, Zwilling said.

The cardinal called Yankees owner George Steinbrenner during the first inning of Wednesday’s game to give him the news. Steinbrenner notified Hernandez and arranged for a plane to fly the family from Miami to New York.

Hernandez’s half-brother, Livan, also played baseball in Cuba and defected during a team trip to Mexico in 1995. He was the 1997 World Series MVP for the Florida Marlins, and his mother was allowed to fly from Cuba to Miami to visit him just before Game 7. Livan and Orlando have the same father, but different mothers.

Orlando Hernandez, who signed a four-year $6.6 million contract with the Yankees in March, was banned from playing in Cuba for dealing with American major league scouts.

After passing through customs in Miami, the four came by bus to a hangar to speak with reporters at about 11:30 p.m. EDT, accompanied by Mario Paredes and Ramon Pallaj of New York’s Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center, who accompanied them on the flight.

``I am very happy that I will be able to see my dad. I have missed him,″ said Hernandez’s older daughter, 8-year-old Yahumara. She and her sister, 3-year-old Steffi, wore Yankees T-shirts. Yahumara’s shirt was emblazoned with a photograph of her father’s face, and her sister’s shirt bore the name of El Duque.

``I’m very happy. I’m very proud of my son,″ said 52-year-old Maria Julia Pedroso Cruz, 52. ``He hasn’t changed, in spite of the fact that he has all that money.″

Since her son left, she said, ``it has been very difficult for us, but we have survived the situation.″

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