By PAUL BRINKLEY-ROGERS
Herald Staff Writer
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Five baseball players who fled Cuba in August work
out at small parks near San Jose, keeping their skills honed for the day the scouts
Four of the athletes were standouts with the Villa Clara team, which won
version of the World Series from 1993 to 1995. The fifth, 17-year-old shortstop
Michael Jova, was such a star on Cuba's Junior Olympic team that he may be the
Despite being paid only 238 pesos a month, less than $10, they enjoyed
privileged status on the island. But when two of them -- catcher Angel Lopez
Berrido and utility man Osmani Garcia Santana -- spoke with pitcher Rolando
Arrojo in 1997 after Arrojo defected to the United States, they received indefinite
The punishment prompted an escape to the Bahamas by three of the players
the humiliation of being returned to Cuba. The other two tried to flee separately but
failed to get off the island.
``I felt my life was over,'' explained Garcia, 24, who said he was called
Havana's Estadio Latinamericano on July 17, 1997, for a dressing-down by
Cuban baseball commissioner Carlos Gonzalez. ``I didn't have any dreams left to
Six days later, the 25-year-old Lopez was disciplined. The two started
``Do you want to go?'' Garcia said.
``Yes,'' was the one-word reply.
Michael Jova, who lived nearby, dropped in on Lopez. He, too, was unhappy.
dad, Pedro Jova, manager of the national team, had been fired because of the
Arrojo incident, he said. He, too, was ready. The three, accompanied by another
ballplayer now in Arizona, made it to the Bahamas, but two months later were sent
Back in Santa Clara, they discovered that two of their Villa Clara teammates
pitcher Alain Hernandez Cardenas, 21, and second baseman Jorge Diaz Olando,
23, -- had also tried to escape but had been arrested on the beach.
President Fidel Castro gave the order to suspend them, they say.
``It must be him,'' Garcia said. ``He never forgave Arrojo, whom they now
``When the national team gathered [in Havana to leave for the 1996 Olympics],
Fidel handed Arrojo our national flag. He told Rolando to be the flag bearer in
Atlanta. And then Rolando did what he had to do, and Fidel has never forgotten
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald