Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two top stars thrown off Cuba's top team for 'grave act'

Right-handed pitcher Yadel Marti and OF Yasser Gomez were dismissed. Two people close to the team said the pair was caught trying to defect to the U.S. Marti was named the top pitcher at the inaugural World Baseball Classic

HAVANA (AP) November 21, 2008 -- Ace pitcher Yadel Marti and star outfielder Yasser Gomez have been thrown off Cuba's top league team for "a grave act of indiscipline," likely ending their hopes of playing in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The one-sentence announcement on Friday in the Communist Party newspaper Granma offered no details on why Marti, picked to the all-tournament team at the 2006 WBC, and Gomez, a former Olympian, were released from Havana's Industriales.

Two people close to the team said the action came after the pair was caught trying to defect to the United States. The two people spoke on condition of anonymity and did not elaborate, fearing it could lead to problems with the Industriales.

Marti was 1-0 with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in 12 2-3 innings during four games in the inaugural WBC, when Cuba finished second to Japan.

The right-hander joined Daisuke Matsuzaka and Chan Ho Park as the all-WBC pitchers. Marti and his teammates were welcomed home as heroes after the event, climbing aboard a convoy of green military jeeps and parading through Havana's streets.

Marti talked publicly about how Cuba would seek revenge during the 2009 WBC and he was expected to again be one of the national team's stars in the tournament this spring. But Friday's announcement virtually guarantees neither he nor Gomez will play baseball for Cuba again in any capacity.

The 29-year-old Marti began his career with the island's top baseball league in 1999 with the Metropolitanos of Havana, the capital's second-tier squad. He was a short, thin prospect who scouts thought did not have the physical stature to become a star, but his excellent control and craftiness on the mound helped him win a spot on the Industriales in 2002.

The 28-year-old Gomez is a left-hander who batted third slot in the Industriales' lineup and hit .394 in 2007. He began playing in Cuba's top league as a teenager and was part of the Olympic team at the Sydney Games in 2000, which took the silver medal. He was left off Cuba's 2006 WBC squad.

Both Gomez and Marti failed to secure spots on the Cuban team that finished second at the Olympic Games in Beijing, absences that surprised many in baseball circles.

Gomez had lived in a Havana apartment building adjacent to the aging stadium where the Industriales play. The building is full of players and their families and painted in the colors of Industriales, blue and white, with a script "I" logo. He moved to a new apartment in the capital's Vedado district sometime ago, however.

Marti has a home in another part of the city, but did not answer his home or cellular phones on Friday. The Industriales refused to comment.

Like many elite Cuban athletes, baseball players draw small salaries and often travel by bus, but have some perks the general population does not, including the use of a state-owned car or the right to purchase their own vehicle. The government does not consider its baseball players professionals, but the island's National Baseball League is far-and-away the most-followed in this baseball-mad country.

The Industriales are the class of the league. The team has first choice of the top baseball talent born in and around Havana and vies with Santiago, the island's second-largest city, for the largest and most-devoted fan base.

It was the team of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who was the most famous player on Industriales and in Cuba when he defected to the United States, eventually winning a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1998.

Livan Hernandez, the 1997 World Series MVP for the Florida Marlins, was also a star of the team before fleeing the island. Rey Ordonez was an Industriales backup shortstop before becoming a three-time Gold Glover with the New York Mets.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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