Cuban star third baseman Michel Enriquez will play a
season for the Mexican Baseball League's Campeche Pirates, becoming only the
second active Cuban athlete ever allowed to play for a professional team, the
National Baseball Federation said Wednesday.
Pro sports were banned in Cuba in 1961 by then Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who believed playing for profit ran counter to the ideals of sportsmanship, but that policy is changing.
According to a press release from the National Baseball Federation, Enriquez, 33, will play for the Pirates until August. He then returns to lead his home team in Cuba's Isle of Youth, where he has been captain for 15 years, in order to get ready for the upcoming 53rd baseball season.
The federation stressed that allowing the famous third baseman to play for the Mexican club was a "recognition of his outstanding trajectory."
Enriquez is only the second Cuban baseball player ever authorized to travel abroad to play for a professional team, after Omar Linares, who also received the rare permission to play two seasons (2002-2004) for the Japanese League's Chunichi Dragons. Linares is now retired.
Other Cuban baseball personalities have been allowed to go pro, as players, coaches or trainers, but only after officially retiring, including star pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo and the current director of the Cuban national team, Victor Mesa.
On Tuesday, Cuba also announced its return to the Professional Baseball Confederation of the Caribbean after a 53-year absence, so it will be taking part in the upcoming regional series to be held in Venezuela's Margarita Island.
Cuban baseball has garnered 25 world and three Olympic titles, but the island has not won an international event since 2005, due mainly to the defection of key players looking to earn as pros abroad.
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