By Wayne Gracyk and Kevin Baxter
July 8, 2002
TOKYO--Veteran infielder Omar Linares will apparently become the first member of the Cuban national team to play professional baseball in another country with the approval of the Havana government. The 34-year-old third baseman signed a contract with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan's Central League and was expected to begin playing for the Nagoya-based team July 19.
The Dragons announced a deal with Cuban officials to acquire Linares, who is signed through 2002 for a monthly salary of 500,000 yen (about $4,000). He received no signing bonus under the agreement made public just four days prior to Japan's June 30 deadline to acquire new foreign players for this season.
Two of the Dragons' Central League rivals in Tokyo, the Yomiuri Giants and Yakult Swallows, had been looking into the possibility of obtaining Cuban players, including Linares. But they never obtained permission from Havana to negotiate with the players. Linares played third base on a Cuban team that won two Olympic gold medals and a silver, and he will most likely play that position for the Dragons.
“This is great,” said Masahiro Yokoyama, the chief negotiator with Cuba for the Japanese team. “We’ve been negotiating with Cuba for eight years to obtain Cuban baseball players, but especially Linares. We have a lot of hope because he’s one of the best in the world.”