As the USA Collegiate National Team and Cuba’s national team prepared to continue a series of “friendly” games Saturday night at Charlotte’s BB&T Ballpark, the Cubans were suddenly without two star players who defected while the teams played in North Carolina.
The series began last week at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, with the second and third games played at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham.
At some point during that span, third baseman Luis Yander La O and outfielder Yadiel Hernandez left the Cuban team, the country’s official sports media reported.
They are the latest defections to hit the Cuban team, with four Cubans going to Canada to play on contracts and three to Japan. Cuban players are allowed to ask for a release from their local clubs, but the national federation decides if they are needed for Team Cuba, the Associated Press reported.
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Heriberto Suarez Pereda, Cuba’s baseball commissioner, told WRAL-TV in Raleigh that the defections were a significant loss of talent for the international team, but it was a personal decision for the players.
The friendly series is meant to be a tune-up for the Pan Am Games that start next week in Toronto.
Saturday’s game at BB&T Ballpark was the only game of the series in Charlotte before it concludes Monday in Cary.
After 16 years of no baseball between the teams, the home-and-home series returned in 2012 with Team USA traveling to Havana.
A patriotic flag ceremony and one of the Southeast’s largest fireworks shows followed the game.