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Visa Issues Still Delay Morales

Times Staff Writer

The Angels will complete their first week of full-squad drills today and open the exhibition season Thursday, and still, Cuban refugee Kendry Morales remains in the Dominican Republic awaiting the necessary paperwork to travel to the United States, his chances of winning the designated hitter job dwindling by the day.

“We don’t control the situation, so until he’s here, we’re going to have a concern,” General Manager Bill Stoneman said, when asked whether the Morales situation could drag on for days or weeks. “I don’t want to say that in a panicky way, because I don’t think it will be much longer. But no one has made any promises.”

Government upheaval in the Dominican could be contributing to Morales’ delay. When President Leonel Fernandez took office in August, he suspended the residency of recent Dominican immigrants, and many have had to go through the process again.

Stoneman said Morales gained residency “well after” Fernandez took office but Associated Press reported Aug. 5 that Morales had been granted residency 10 days before the government changed hands. So, it remains unclear what’s causing the delay.

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“Everything we’re hearing is that this thing is moving along slowly,” Stoneman said. “It has nothing to do with the U.S. In order to get a visa, he has to show he’s a Dominican [resident], and to do that, he has to have all the paperwork done. That’s what is holding this up.”

For all the problems Morales is encountering, he may be one of the lucky ones for having fled Cuba just in time. According to the Miami Herald, six Cuban baseball players and at least three men who might have been trying to smuggle them into the country were jailed in the Dominican last week under charges that they tried to enter the country illegally.

Immigration director Carlos Amarante Baret told the newspaper the arrests would go a long way toward dismantling a network he said was bringing players from Cuba to the Dominican, where they would seek residency and then offer themselves to major league teams as free agents.

In the last 16 months, 38 Cuban players have fled the island, with many passing through the Dominican, including Morales, the 21-year-old switch hitter, and pitcher Alay Soler, who signed with the New York Mets but also remains in the Dominican.

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“As the days go by, it’s not making his job of learning our system and our job of evaluating him any easier,” Manager Mike Scioscia said of Morales.

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Kelvim Escobar, who has been slowed this spring by shoulder tightness, threw off a mound for the first time Sunday, throwing 37 pitches, all fastballs, several of them near full strength. He’ll mix in a few breaking balls and changeups in his next bullpen session Tuesday and hopes to pitch in an exhibition game the second week of March.

“I let it go a few times, and it feels strong,” Escobar said. “There was no hesitation, because I’ve been throwing pain-free since I got here. I just have to make sure everything is 100%. I don’t want to suffer a setback.”

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In an effort to avoid the player-fan confrontations that have marred professional sports in recent months, Major League Baseball will employ a field supervisor in every stadium for every game this season. Texas reliever Frank Francisco threw a chair into the stands during a brawl in Oakland in September, and several Detroit Piston players went into the stands to fight fans during a game against Indiana in November. A tape of the NBA fight was shown to the Angels on Sunday during their annual spring meeting with MLB security chief Kevin Hallinan. “They gave us steps on how to handle certain situations,” first baseman Darin Erstad said. “It’s a matter of not letting emotions get out of hand.” ... Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn are among the starters scheduled to pitch in Wednesday’s intrasquad game. John Lackey will start the Cactus League opener against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.


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