Joy over the arrival of the latest Cuban baseball player to make it to the United States was tempered by news that four others and a coach trying to defect are feared missing at sea.
As the Cuban exile community in Miami celebrated the arrival Tuesday of Orlando Hernandez, who fled the island in December and is headed to spring training with the New York Yankees, a spokesman for Hernandez's agent said another group left Cuba on March 10 and hasn't been heard from since.The four players - all former members of the Cuban national team - and a pitching coach left in a flimsy boat a week ago, said Rene Guim, a spokesman for Miami sports agent Joe Cubas.
Cubas, who has helped several Cuban players defect, received a call last week from worried family members who said they hadn't heard from the men.
Cubas alerted the group Brothers to the Rescue, which flies over the waters between the United States and Cuba searching for rafters, but pilots haven't found any sign of the players, Guim said.
Cubas also visited a refugee camp in the Bahamas, where Cuban rafters intercepted at sea are housed, but didn't find the group of players.
All five were banned from baseball on the island last July because Cuban authorities suspected they were planning to defect.
"The families are fearful because they haven't heard anything from them," Guim said. "They said they got on a flimsy boat and they were worried that maybe they didn't make it."
Jorge Luis Toca, a 23-year-old first baseman, is missing along with catcher Angel Lopez, 25; second baseman Jorge Diaz, 23; and pitching coach Orlando Chinea, believed to be 41. Also missing is Michael Jova, a 17-year-old shortstop from Cuba's junior team.
Hernandez, who fled Cuba on Dec. 26 on a crowded boat with several others, signed a $6.6 million four-year deal with the Yankees earlier this month. He was Cuba's top pitcher until he was banned from baseball on the communist island for his contacts with Cubas.
A year before Hernandez was banned, his half-brother, Livan Hernandez, defected on a team trip to Mexico. Livan Hernandez, 22, went on to fame and riches with the Florida Marlins and was named MVP of the 1997 World Series.