Baseball: Arocha strikes out for freedom

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The Independent Online
CUBA's triumphant march to the baseball gold medal in Barcelona, during which they twice beat the Americans at their own game, did not go unnoticed by those whose job it is to make political capital on behalf of the Castro regime.

But one man who might have shared in the celebrations, who might have joined Victor Mesa, Giorge Dias, Omar Ajete and the rest on the rostrum, was missing. While the Cubans danced, Rene Arocha sat alone in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee.

One of the best right-handed pitchers on the Cuban squad, with a fastball timed at over 90mph, Arocha, 26, travelled abroad every year to play for his country. In July last year, after playing an exhibition series against the US amateur team in Tennessee, Arocha failed to show up at the departure gate at Miami airport for the connecting flight to Havana. He had slipped out to the car park and into his uncle's waiting car.

Assigned to the St Louis Cardinals in a special lottery of major league teams, Arocha has spent his first season in America playing for the Louisville Redbirds, St Louis's farm team. The Cardinals are pleased with their catch. 'He's won 100 games in Cuba,' said Dal Maxvill, the club's general manager. 'That's good ball. It's not like he's a raw college kid. He's been around.'

Last week the Redbirds travelled to play Nashville, just up Highway 40 from where Arocha had steeled himself to start a new life last year. 'I did not defect in order to play baseball,' he said on Sunday. 'I happened to be a baseball player, but I came to America in search of freedom, of human rights. The Olympics mean nothing compared to freedom.'

He had told no one of his plan, not even his wife Evelisy and nine- year-old daughter Gretel. 'That was the hardest part, to know I was leaving them behind,' he said, though he hoped they may join him one day.

Though Arocha is still a prisoner of his Spanish tongue outside the world of his fellow Hispanics on the Redbirds, he is always at home on the pitcher's mound. 'The game is easier for me here,' he said, 'because they play with wooden bats. In Cuba they use aluminium bats, and if you pitch inside they can still drive the ball. That's not the case here.'

Every day he waits for the call up to the majors. It may not come this year. If the Cardinals promote him, he is one more player they will need to protect in the first round of the post-season draft to supply players for the new franchises in Miami and Denver for 1993.

Draft or no draft, many believe the Florida Marlins in Miami will make an offer the Cardinals cannot refuse. The thought is an inspiring one for Arocha. 'To play in Miami would be like playing in Havana. I would be at home,' he said. A Cuban defector playing major league baseball across the Straits of Florida. That will not go unnoticed by those whose job it is to make political capital against the Castro regime.

----------------------------------------------------------------- RESULTS AND STANDINGS -----------------------------------------------------------------

AMERICAN LEAGUE: Detroit 9 Toronto 2; Milwaukee 4 Minnesota 2; Kansas City 5 Oakland 2; New York Yankees 6 Boston 0; Baltimore 3 Cleveland 2; Chicago White Sox 12 California Angels 8; Seattle 6 Texas Rangers 5.

----------------------------------------------------------------- EASTERN DIVISION ----------------------------------------------------------------- W L Pct GB Toronto Blue Jays 65 46 .586 - Baltimore Orioles 63 48 .568 2 Milwaukee Brewers 60 50 .529 4 Boston Red Sox 52 58 .473 12 Detroit Tigers 52 61 .460 14 New York Yankees 51 60 .459 14 Cleveland Indians 49 62 .441 16 ----------------------------------------------------------------- WESTERN DIVISION ----------------------------------------------------------------- Oakland Athletics 67 44 .604 - Minnesota Twins 64 47 .577 3 Chicago White Sox 57 52 .523 9 Texas Rangers 57 57 .500 11 Kansas City Royals 50 61 .450 17 California Angels 49 63 .438 18 Seattle Mariners 43 70 .381 25 -----------------------------------------------------------------

NATIONAL LEAGUE: Atlanta Braves 10 Los Angeles Dodgers 3; Pittsburgh Pirates 7 St Louis Cardinals 5; Montreal Expos 6 Philadelphia Phillies 2; San Francisco Giants 7 Cincinnati Reds 1; San Diego Padres 4 Houston Astros 3; Chicago Cubs 6 New York Mets 2.

----------------------------------------------------------------- EASTERN DIVISION ----------------------------------------------------------------- W L Pct GB Pittsburgh Pirates 63 48 .568 - Montreal Expos 60 52 .536 3 Chicago Cubs 55 55 .500 7 New York Mets 51 59 .464 11 St Louis Cardinals 51 60 .459 12 Philadelphia Phillies 47 65 .420 16 ----------------------------------------------------------------- WESTERN DIVISION ----------------------------------------------------------------- Atlanta Braves 67 42 .615 - Cincinnati Reds 63 47 .573 4 San Diego Padres 62 51 .549 7 San Francisco Giants 52 59 .468 16 Houston Astros 48 63 .432 20 Los Angeles Dodgers 46 64 .418 21 -----------------------------------------------------------------