Cuba opens pipeline of baseball talent to Japan, U.S. left out

Thu Jul 3, 2014 9:28pm EDT
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By Daniel Trotta and Junko Fujita

HAVANA/TOKYO (Reuters) - Cuba is allowing some of its best baseball players to take their skills to Japan and make good money instead of risking their lives at sea with human traffickers in pursuit of Major League Baseball dreams.

The bright lights of the U.S. big leagues do still draw Cuban prospects to speedboats in order to escape the communist-run island - one player just left the island and six others were excluded from the national team for trying.

But now they have options.

In an attempt to halt defections, Cuba is allowing some of its players to sign overseas contracts while raising the pay of those who stay.

Two of Cuba's biggest stars have signed officially sanctioned contracts this season with Nippon Professional Baseball teams, and Cuba for the first time is welcoming foreign scouts. South Koreans have also come looking for Cuban talent.

Cuban baseball officials have indicated more signings are likely, though they have not said how many. 

"We would like to hire more Cuban players in the future," said Masao Shimazaki, director for international relations for the Yomiuri Giants. "One reason Cuba has a lot of good players is because Cuba does not have an agreement with MLB yet."

Cuba once prevented its stars from playing in the United States but now Major League Baseball teams are shut out of the Cuban market only because of the decades-old U.S. economic embargo of the country.   Continued...

Cuban baseball player Frederich "Freddy" Cepeda scores a home run against South Korea, in the fourth inning of their elimination game at the 35th Baseball World Championships in Havana in this October 14, 2003 file photograph. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files