After Cuba's loss to the United States in their World Baseball Classic matchup on Sunday, the team prepared to return to Cuba - except for one player who had another plan.
Ivan Prieto was not aboard the airplane returning to Havana on Monday morning. Prieto, 26 years old with seven years of experience as a professional ballplayer, is a backup/bullpen catcher who played in 257 games in Cuba with a batting average of .291, 13 homeruns, and 102 RBI's.
Prieto joins a list of hundreds of Cuban baseball players who have escaped from Cuba to continue playing ball elsewhere. Notable players who defected from Cuba include Jose Canseco, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, and Yunel Escobar. Fred Gonzalez went on to become a Major League Baseball manager following his playing career.
According to baseball writer Henry Morales, Prieto walked out of the team's hotel in Miami, Florida on Sunday night and got into a car with his relatives, becoming the first Cuban ballplayer to defect during the World Baseball Classic.
Prieto's defection is not the only drama to have been generated by Cuba's involvement in the international baseball tournament. Some Cuban Americans protested the team's inclusion outside the stadium. One protestor told a local television news reporter that the team represents, "the worst dictatorship in this hemisphere for 64 years and coming here to play baseball - that's a big insult to the Cubans."
News outlets continue to try to make contact with Prieto.
At the time of this writing (bottom of the 8th inning), Mexico leads Japan 5 to 4. The winner of this game will move on to face the reigning champions, the United States of America, in the World Baseball Classic Championship on Tuesday.
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