The Miami Herald
May 8, 1999

Baseball coach leaves a `precarious' Cuba for new life in Hialeah

Associated Press

It took Cuban baseball coach Rigoberto Betancourt Herrera just a few hours to
decide to skip the flight home to Havana and leave behind his wife and four kids.

So once the Cuban baseball team defeated the Baltimore Orioles 12-6,
Betancourt packed his bag and walked out the door of a Baltimore hotel with no
plans of turning back.

``In Cuba the situation is precarious,'' Betancourt, the Cuban national team's
pitching coach, said Thursday after arriving in Hialeah to stay with relatives.

``Life is difficult -- getting transportation, housing and even medication. Here I have
family. I decided to start a whole new life,'' he said.

Seven Cubans who traveled to Baltimore with the 300-member Cuban delegation
for the Monday game missed the return flight home the following day. Six said
they had overslept and have since returned to the island.

Betancourt, 54, was the only one to stay. He had planned to walk out of Camden
Yards after the game along with the thousands of baseball fans.

``I was going to leave just like a normal person. But I realized I couldn't do it after
the game,'' he said. ``I left my passport and other papers at the hotel.''

His escape plans were nearly foiled again. When the team arrived at the hotel that
night, they were told they had just a half hour to get their things together for the
return flight.

Betancourt grabbed his bag and walked outside for a quick smoke, only he kept
on walking. Fearing the police might think he was homeless and arrest him,
Betancourt hid in the bushes at a nearby park for about seven hours.

At about 10 a.m., he walked into the downtown Baltimore police headquarters and
requested asylum.

Now, just three days after his defection, Betancourt is living with two aunts in

Baseball agent Joe Cubas, who represents Cuban pitcher Orlando ``El Duque''
Hernandez, vowed to help get the man called ``el Pequeno Gigante del Box,'' --
Little Big Man in the Box -- a job in baseball.

``I'm going to make some phone calls for him and see that he obtains a job,''
Cubas said.

Betancourt, once a famous left-handed pitcher on the island, played Cuban
baseball between 1965 and 1975 and was known for an excellent curve ball.

He most recently worked as a pitching trainer in a Havana province earning $250
a month.

His next step is to assure his stay in the United States and arrange for his wife
Marta Mesa Rodriguez and their kids, ages 29, 28, 13 and 7, to move to the
United States.