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Several Teams Seek Cuban Star

Cuban baseball star Andy Morales had not been released from government detention and was already being courted by major league teams, according to his agent.

Morales, who came ashore near Key West on Tuesday with eight other migrants, was released to family members on Thursday evening, after his immigration paperwork was processed at the office of U.S. Catholic Conference Migration and Refugee Services.

"I am happy to be here. I am just very nervous from the trip," Morales said Thursday after being examined at a county clinic.

Morales, 24, said he would hold a news conference Friday. He was planning to stay in Miami with his father-in-law, Carlos Castillo, while he pursues his baseball career.

Dressed in sneakers, dark-green jogging pants and a T-shirt, Morales stepped out of a white county van, kissed his fingers and touched the ground as members of the media watched as he was transported to the clinic.

His agent, Gus Dominguez, followed the van in a white Cadillac, cell phone in hand.

"On the way over here, we got three phone calls from major league teams, wanting to confirm that Andy was here, and asking us to call them," Dominguez said, declining to name the teams.

AP Photo
Carlos Castillo, father-
in-law of Andy Morales,
talks to Miami reporters
after trying to get him
freed from the federal
detention center there.

"We're elated, and happy for him and his family," Dominguez said, adding that Morales had no team preference. "Right now we are just taking it day by day."

Morales and 30 other Cubans were refused asylum and sent back to Cuba after being picked up at sea by a Coast Guard cutter near Key West last month. Cubans who actually land in the United States are generally allowed to stay after brief immigration processing.

Morales's wife, Daiyana, and their 7-month-old son remain in Cuba. They are reported to already have visas to emigrate to the U.S., although they still need final approval from the Cuban government before they can leave.

"What was important to him now," says Daiyana Morales, "was to leave, even to work on a building site, because he wasn't going to do anything here anymore."

In San Nicolas de Bari, some 28 miles southeast of Havana, the baseball player's father says a stream of congratulatory neighbors has made their way to his home.

"I am happy that my son is safe and sound (and) that he will be able to play the kind of baseball he wants," says Adelso Morales, who adds that neither he nor his wife knew about plans for the second trip to the U.S. "He's on land, it seem this time he achieved his objective."

The elder Morales says his son was hurt by insinuations by Cuan sports authorities that he is not a very skilled baseball player. "He is not mediocre," proclaims the proud father. "He is a baseball star."

Adelso Morales says his wife, Magdalena de Leon, had been deeply depressed after her son's initial, unsuccessful attempt to emigrate to the United States. "She is happy now that her son is following his dream," proclaims Adelso Morales, who is himself a baseball coach.

Morales' wife's relatives and other friends gathered outside the detention center Wednesday awaiting, but not yet obtaining, his release.

"Mr. Morales will be treated like all other adult Cubans arriving on U.S. soil," says Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Dan Kane. "If he is eligible for parole, one year and one day from date of parole he will be able to adjust his status to legal permanent residency."

Carlos Castillo, Morales's father-in-law, was upset with INS officials for not immediately releasing him. He said the family plans to live with Morales in Miami.

Morales hopes to follow other Cuban national team members who have defected to play baseball in the United States. They include New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, his half brother, San Francisco Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez, and New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez.

About 35 Cuban baseball players have defected in the past 10 years.

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