Baseball's Cuban Libre

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Fidel Castro may be reconsidering his nascent open-dugout policy after at least one of his team members decided to defect after the Cuban national team played the Orioles at Camden Yards Monday. Pitching coach Rigoberto Herrera Betancourt walked into a Baltimore police station to request asylum just hours after his team beat the Orioles 12-6 in an emotionally charged game that featured a Cuban umpire mauling an anti-Castro demonstrator. And he may not be the only one: Six team members reportedly missed the team's flight back to Havana, and New Jersey congressman Bob Menendez says that at least two more might be looking for work in the U.S. Back in Havana, Castro praised his team and didn't mention Herrera, although he did say that defectors were bad.

So will we see the Cuban team back in the U.S.A. anytime soon? At least four Major League Baseball franchises reportedly are clamoring for a game next year with the Cubans, even after the boys from Havana dismantled one of the league's highest-salaried teams (Baltimore Orioles 1998 payroll: $78 million; Cuban nationals: $2,270). The lure of big-time talent -- Cuba by some estimates is home to as many as 75 big league-caliber players -- will keep baseball teams making pitches to Havana for some time to come. Whether the now once-bitten Fidel will once again turn shy remains to be seen.