The Miami Herald
Wed, Mar. 24, 2004
Cuban defector pursues dream


On a map, the distance between Cuba and South Florida doesn't seem all that far. But it took Yolexandry Reina 30 months to cover it -- including unplanned detours through Canada and Costa Rica and more than a little trouble with Canadian immigration officials.

But when he pulled on a blue Marlins jersey for the first time earlier this month, it all seemed worth it.

''Finally, I'm here,'' he said Tuesday after allowing a run in two innings in a minor-league game in his second appearance as a professional. ``Finally, I get to see a spring training camp.''

Reina defected off a Cuban national junior team in Edmonton, Alberta, in August 2001, then resurfaced months later in Costa Rica, where his agent hoped to negotiate a lucrative free agent contract. But no major-league team would touch him until the agent cleared up Reina's immigration status -- was he claiming Cuban, Canadian or Costa Rican citizenship? -- so the agent quickly abandoned the pitcher in San Jose.

Reina, a 21-year-old right-hander, eventually found his way back to Canada, only to be arrested for illegal entry, setting off an 18-month legal adventure that didn't end until the Miami firm of Zumpano, Patricios and Winker, in concert with the Marlins, got him approved for a U.S. visa in January.

''I could never have realized my dream of playing professional baseball in Cuba,'' Reina said.

Reina, who admits to being about 15 pounds overweight, will participate in an extended spring training camp next month before being assigned to the Marlins' Single A team in either Jamestown, N.Y., or Jupiter.

''We're going to take our time with him,'' said Marc DelPiano, the Marlins' director of player development. ``He's a good-looking kid. He's got possibilities.''