Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig gets a pass for now among South Florida’s Cubans
MIAMI -- The tale of Yasiel Puig’s death-defying escape from Cuba has proved so captivating, Hollywood has already bought the movie rights.
But there’s at least one part his story that hasn’t been fully told. Before he defected and signed with the Dodgers, Puig allegedly acted as an informant for the Cuban government, accusing at least three people of offering to help him defect and providing testimony that landed all three in prison, according to court documents filed here in South Florida and in Cuba.
“That is among the worst things that you can be among the Cubans, is to be an informer,” said Pedro Roig, a senior consultant with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. “If, at the end, he is found guilty … then it’s a new ballgame for him.”
For the time being, though, Puig is being judged by rules that say any athlete brave enough, smart enough and talented enough to flee Cuba will be welcomed as a hero by South Florida’s large and passionate exile community.
Puig, who makes his off-season home in Miami, was greeted warmly Friday in his second trip to Marlins Park as a Dodger. Playing before a crowd that included his mother and other relatives, he went one for three with a run batted in, a walk and two stolen bases in a 6-3 loss to the Marlins.
But that welcome could cool considerably if allegations from a Florida lawsuit are proved. Miguel Angel Corbacho Daudinot, who was sentenced to seven years in a Cuban jail on human trafficking charges, has accused Puig and Puig’s mother, Maritza Valdes Gonzalez, of helping put him in prison, where he says he was tortured. Corbacho’s attorneys are hoping the case will go to trial this winter.
Until then, talk-show hostess Ninoska Perez, one of the most popular and strident anti-Castro voices in South Florida, suspects Puig is getting a pass because of his celebrity.
“It’s like [he’s] a holy person,” she said. “I don’t know if people don’t believe it or it’s because he’s a baseball player.
“This is Miami. People know what it’s like to have this happen to them or their family.”
South Florida has proved it hasn’t softened its stance about Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Two seasons ago, a public outcry led the Marlins to suspend Manager Ozzie Guillen simply for saying he admired the Cuban dictator. Six months later, Guillen was fired.
With Puig, the public appears willing to reserve judgment.
“People are waiting to see how it comes out,” said Jorge Ebro, sports editor of the Spanish-language daily El Nuevo Herald.
The strongest allegation against Puig comes in an affidavit from Yunior Despaigne, a former boxer who accompanied Puig on his successful 2012 escape from Cuba, and in documents obtained from the communist island’s domestic spy agency.
In a affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in the Corbacho case, Despaigne said Puig, who was sanctioned by the government for attempting to defect, admitted he accused people of human trafficking in an effort to have his penalty overturned.
In the Cuban documents, a young man purported to be Puig is shown pointing at a photograph of a man identified as Corbacho. An accompanying two-page declaration, on letterhead of Cuba’s interior ministry, is signed by Puig.
Sean Santini, Puig’s lawyer in the Florida case, declined comment, as did a representative for Adam Katz, the player’s agent.
Puig has spoken of his defection and the accompanying court case only tangentially.
“When all that stuff came out, I really didn’t worry about it,” Puig, speaking in Spanish, said Friday. “It didn’t really bother me on the field.”
That appears to be true: since the LA Magazine story that detailed Puig’s escape came out, he has raised his batting average 73 points, to .310.
Puig also appears far more relaxed this season. Off the field, he said he has grown accustomed to both the perks and the pressures of the major leagues, all of which were new to him last summer. On the field, he said he has benefited from extra work with hitting coaches Mark McGwire and John Valentin.
“I’ve been working every day, practicing every day,” he said. “I’ve been working on inside pitches, outside pitches, breaking pitches — all kinds of pitches.
“We’re facing other teams that have good starters, good relievers. And they all have different types of pitches, that’s why I have to keep working every day.”
And for the time being, at least, even the people in Miami appear more interested in talking about that then what Puig may — or may not — have done in Cuba.
“We don’t have many heroes,” said Ebro, himself a defector from Cuba. “And we need heroes.”
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