CORAL GABLES, FLA. — CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Having watched his share of spy movies, Rene Arocha never thought defecting to the United States would be so simple.
But on Wednesday afternoon, the Cuban national team pitcher just walked out of the Miami International Airport Hotel and entered a waiting car. His father and two friends were there for him.
With that Arocha, 27, considered to be one of the island nation's best players, joined a growing wave of Cubans fleeing to the United States.
For Arocha, the decision was very difficult. By defecting, he left his wife and young daughter in Cuba to an uncertain fate.
"I'm very worried about them," Arocha said yesterday at a news conference at Radio Mambi, a Miami radio station with a strong anti-Castro bent. "They're all I've been thinking about."
Arocha said thoughts of defecting had crossed his mind since he began playing baseball at age 15. He realized his dream of reaching the major leagues would not materialize as long as he stayed in Cuba.
So before leaving with the Cuban team for a series of exhibition games against the U.S. national team in Millington, Tenn., last weekend, Arocha decided to defect.
Afraid of the repercussions his family might suffer, Arocha kept his plan to himself, not even telling his wife or his 8-year-old
After pitching eight innings and striking out eight to lead the Cuban team to a 9-8 victory on Tuesday, Arocha accompanied the Cuban team to Miami on Wednesday.
At the airport, Arocha was met by a friend, Manny Infante, who walked him out of the terminal and into a car where Arocha's father and Manolo Hurtado, a former Cuban national team manager, were waiting.
"I had been here before and admired the liberty in this country," said Arocha. "But it was the baseball that brought me here."
Although Arocha has petitioned the Immigration and Naturalization Service for political asylum status, he made it clear that economics had as much to do with his decision as did his disaffection with the current Cuban political climate.
Arocha is from Regla near Havana, the same small town that produced Oakland's Jose Canseco. The fact that Canseco was making millions of dollars in the United States while he was earning less than 300 Cuban pesos a month was never lost on Arocha.
"There are no opportunities in Cuba for a ballplayer to develop himself to the maximum," said Arocha, who has played on the national team since 1986.