By Kevin Baxter
June 11, 2002
MIAMI–Aging Cuban superstars Orestes Kindelan and Antonio Pacheco, plus an unnamed third Cuban veteran–likely righthander Leonilas Rodriguez–will play in the Japanese industrial league this summer, according to a report in Sports Nippon, a leading Japanese sports publication.
Kindelan, a power-hitting first baseman/DH, and Pacheco, a slick-fielding second baseman, are both 38 and have played for the Cuban national team for two decades. And though terms of the Cubans’ contracts with the Shidax food supply company–which owns the team for which they’ll play–were not immediately available, in the past Japanese industrial league teams have made payments to the cash-strapped Cuban government for the rights to Cuban players.
The teams then provide the players with room and board and a small stipend.
Cuba first tried the idea of “renting” players in the 1990s, when the island nation was suffering through its worst economic crisis since Fidel Castro took power. Its sports ministry established a marketing arm, Cubadeportes, which negotiated the loan of aging baseball players to teams in Japan and Italy, and track stars such as long jumper Ivan Pedrosa and Javier Sotomayor–the world record holder in the high jump–to a club in Spain.
The deals earned the Cuban government millions of dollars, but after a rash of defections, the suspension of popular players such as German Mesa for reportedly considering defection and the transfer of nine players–including Olympians Victor Mesa, Jorge Luis Valdes and Jose Delgado–to teams overseas, interest in the Cuban national series dropped to a post-revolution low.
So, in March 1998, the government announced it would suspend the practice of sending players abroad.
Cuba’s loss to the United States in the 2000 Sydney Olympics may have led to a reassessment of that policy, however. The national team is being completely overhauled and, with 18-year-old infielder Kendry Morales infusing the national team with its best crop of young talent since 1987, Cubadeportes is compiling a list of players it will make available to teams in Japan and elsewhere.