Cuban Pitcher May Be Defecting
Aug. 02, 1999
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) _ The reservations for Sydney can be made. The United States will be sending a baseball team to the Olympics.
So will Cuba, but, according to sports agent Joe Cubas, it will be without pitcher Danys Baez.
Cubas, who has been involved in the defections of many Cuban ballplayers, said in a press release today that Baez left the team Sunday night after it beat Canada 3-2 in the Pan American Games.
Baez's defection would bring to eight the number of Cubans to leave that nation's delegation to the games.
What a trip it has already been for a hastily formed team of minor leaguers not on major league 40-man rosters. On Sunday, they qualified their country for the 2000 Games.
International baseball, as they have found, has a different flavor. And when the game is played in a single-elimination format, the pressure is intense.
``What an experience!'' U.S. manager Buddy Bell said, near tears after a 2-1, 10-inning win over Mexico on Sunday night.
Now the Americans have one more goal before leaving the games, and that one is gold. They can get that by beating world champion Cuba tonight for the second time in a week.
But, realistically, their major mission, winning an Olympic berth _ even though many of the same players may not be on the team that goes to Australia _ has been accomplished.
The hero of the victory over Mexico was 29-year-old Mike Neill, who has spent most of his career in the minors, save six games with Oakland last year. The Pan Am Games mark the first time the United States has used professional players _ all minor leaguers _ in an international competition.
``Last year, I had a major arm injury and made it to the big leagues. That was a long road back and finally getting there was an individual thing,'' said Neill, who drove in the go-ahead run with a pinch-hit single.
``This is by far better as a team member, representing your country and trying to get USA baseball into the Olympics. I think we were a little tight. But it's awesome playing for your country and then getting the big hit to help the team win.''
With one out in top of the 10th, Marcus Jensen, America's top hitter in the tournament, doubled off the first-base bag. After a strikeout, Neill hit a 3-2 pitch for a run-scoring single off former major league pitcher Vicente Palacios.
Dan Wheeler, who pitched well in a 10-5 win over Cuba in the preliminary round, got the victory. The right-hander from Triple-A Durham pitched a perfect four innings in relief.
``Wow,'' he said after the Americans swarmed the mound in celebration when Wheeler got the final out. ``This is one of the things that we needed to do. But I want a gold medal and now we have that chance.''
Cuba edged host, using a three-run homer from star Omar Linares and strong relief pitching by Jose Ibar, who lost his edge in the ninth after a protester ran on the field with a sign ``Human Right First.''
Several Cuban players, including two carrying their country's flag, chased the protester before he was finally knocked down by second baseman Juan Padilla and taken away by authorities.
Late Sunday night, police said four members of the Cuban delegation were involved in a fight with the protester. The fight occurred at 10:30 p.m. in the center of the city outside the offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, acting duty inspector Paul Ingram of the Winnipeg City Police said.
A shaken Ibar then gave up a single, threw a wild pitch and walked a batter before reliever Luis Lazo struck out the final two hitters, setting off an on-field celebration. Canada had routed Cuba 8-1 in the preliminries, but all a 5-1 record gets the Canadians is a shot at the bronze medal.
Canadian roller hockey goalie Steve Vezina failed a doping test and his team was stripped of its gold medal. Vezina, who plays ice hockey for the Utah Grizzlies of the IHL and also is a professional roller hockey player, tested positive for two stimulants and ``an enormously high level'' of an anabolic steroid. It was the first doping incident at these games.
The United States, which lost 7-6 to Canada in the gold medal game, was awarded the championship, with Argentina moving up to second and Brazil to third.
``He was foolish and he made a mistake,'' Pan American Sports Organization president Mario Vazquez Rana said.
``It's unfortunate,'' teammate Jeff Leiter said. ``What he did hurts all of us.''
The drug test showed three banned substances: ephedrine, pseudo-ephedrine and Nandrolone. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are stimulants used to avoid fatigue. Nandrolone is an anabolic steroid that increases muscle mass.
Vezina said at his drug test that he had taken Sudafed prior to competition. Many hockey players use Sudafed as an energy boost, and it is not banned in professional ice hockey leagues.
``It comes as a big shock ... Steve is not an abuser of anabolic steroids,'' said his coach with the Buffalo Wings of Roller Hockey International, which does not have a substance abuse policy.
``Until we have a chance to gather all of the facts and speak to everyone involved, Steve Vezina is scheduled to be in goal Friday against Dallas,'' Wings vice president of operations Benny Gulakiw said.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Juana Rosario, the winner of the women's high jump, tested positive for illegal substances. The CBC said her A sample came out postive and now her B-sample must be tested. If it comes back positive as well, she would be stripped of her medal.
Games officials would not comment on the report.
Three more Cuban athletes defected this weekend before Baez's reported departure.
Also Sunday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials confirmed that an athlete had sought asylum and was turned over to immigration authorities. Sources close to the Cuban team, on the condition they not be identified, said the athlete was from Cuba's 4 x 100 track relay squad, but would not give his name.
The others were a soccer goalkeeper _ the goalies were Rene Castro, who played every minute in the games, and Rodney Valdes _ and a female artistic gymnast.
Both U.S. basketball teams won Sunday, but the women then fell 77-72 to Brazil this morning.
Hours after their worst loss ever at the Pan Ams, the U.S. women awoke early Sunday and beat the Dominican Republic 92-80 to clinch a berth in the medals round. The women had lost to Cuba 95-64.
The American men edged Brazil 73-71. Travis Williams made a layup with 22 seconds left for the go-ahead basket and Doug Smith followed with a key block.
The United States beat the Dominican Republic in three sets for the women's bronze medal in volleyball.
The U.S. swimming team got off to a rousing start today, led by Ed Moses. He set a Pan Ams record of 1:01.06 in the preliminaries of the men's 100-meter breaststroke.
Moses, a freshman at Virginia, shattered the record of 1:02.28 by Steve Lundquist in 1983. Moses' time was the second-fastest ever by an American.
All other U.S. swimmers in the prelims also qualified for tonight's finals.