Ivan Prieto, the bullpen catcher for the Cuban team that competed in the World Baseball Classic, reportedly defected to the United States hours after his team was eliminated by the Americans in Miami.
According to baseball writer Yordano Carmona, Prieto “escaped” from the team hotel in Miami and the team plane returned home without him on board. According to the Miami Herald, the team took an early flight home only hours after the game in part to limit the amount of time a potential defector would have to get away from the team.
MLB writer Francys Romero added that Prieto was picked up from the team hotel by his brother sometime between the team’s arrival there and when it left for the airport.
Nonetheless, according to the Herald, the Cuban team was greeted by President Miguel Diaz-Canel upon arrival in Havana, then was cheered on on the streets as the bus headed to the Latinoamericano baseball stadium in the nation’s capital for another welcoming ceremony — all part of what the Herald called a “carefully choreographed political display of support for the team when it returned to the island.”
Prieto did not play in the WBC, being added to the team specifically to be bullpen catcher. Reportedly 26 years old, Prieto played eight seasons in Cuba’s National Series — the country’s top baseball league — with the Sabuesos de Holguín and Alazanes de Granma.
Cuba advanced to the semifinals of the WBC before losing 14-2 in Miami on Sunday night. The game is believed to be Cuba’s first in Miami in at least 63 years.