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Cuban baseball defectors teach youth amid warming with US


Cuban baseball defectors teach youth amid warming with US

HAVANA (AP) — More than 100 Cuban boys wearing the uniforms of local baseball teams stood in rows, smiling nervously Wednesday as they got tips and training from some of their major league idols — men who were born on the island and were once disdained by the Communist government for defecting to the United States.

Los Angeles Dodgers outfi elder Yasiel Puig, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena and Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu were among those who ran 10- and 11-year-old Cuban players through a three-hour skills camp on the second day of a three-day mission meant to warm relations between Major League Baseball and Cuba.

Joined by pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo and other Cuban baseball stars who have stayed on the island, the major league stars divided the youths into five groups and ran them through calisthenics and batting, pitching and catching drills. And they offered their advice.

'We're going to give our best on this visit and we appreciate the opportunity we've been given,' said Yasiel Puig, who left Cuba illegally in 2012. 'Everything else we leave to God and destiny.'

Eleven-year-old Yassel Veranes grinned widely as he waited for the clinic to begin. 'It's my dream to be here to see them,' said the boy, who was brought to Havana's Latinoamericano Stadium by his father, Elio Veranes, who watched the proceedings with pride.

The official return on Tuesday of baseball defectors earning millions in the major leagues was a landmark in the new relationship between Cuba and the United States and a dramatic manifestation of Cuba's shifting attitude toward the hundreds of players who have abandoned the country that trained them.

One year ago this week, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that their countries were restoring diplomatic ties, opening the door for better baseball relations between the countries.

Cuba and the United States always have shared a love of baseball, despite deep political and ideological differences over the years.

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