Cuban baseball player defects in Iowa

Political and economic freedom are two sides of the same coin -- and if you don't believe it, ask Cuban baseball player Misael Siverio. The 24-year-old pitcher -- a promising left-hander with Cuba's National Team -- said adios to Cuba's worker's paradise on Tuesday while in Iowa for an exhibition game with the U.S. team.

Just hours after arriving in Des Moines, he defected. He reportedly vanished into the dark parking lot of a Sheraton hotel at 10 p.m. -- making good on plans to flee Cuba and join a Major League team.

As the Des Moines Register reported in Wednesday's paper:

Paul Seiler, executive director of USA Baseball, confirmed that Siverio is no longer on the roster of the Cuban team that tonight will play an exhibition game against the United States in Des Moines.

Seiler said the Cuban delegation declined to comment. "From their perspective, he's no longer a member of their delegation," Seiler said.

Friends in the United States aided Siverio, a left-handed pitcher who is experiencing one of the best seasons of his career while compiling a 1.90 earned-run average, according to El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language sister newspaper of the Miami Herald.

Details of how Siverio defected, however, remain unclear.

A manager at the Sheraton, located at 50th Street and University Avenue, declined to comment, citing the company's policy against discussing guest business. Several Cuban coaches and players approached during workouts Wednesday at Principal Park also would not address the situation.

Cuba and the United States are scheduled to start a five-game, traveling exhibition series tonight at Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs. Michael Gartner, majority owner of the Iowa Cubs, said he was told only that "the guy walked out of a hotel in West Des Moines."

The Cuban team arrived in the U.S. via a flight to Chicago on Tuesday, then traveled by bus to Des Moines. The team reached the Sheraton about 2 p.m., officials estimated.

Silverio's defection comes as Cuba struggles with a stagnant economy, its much-heralded economic reforms amounting to window dressing in a Soviet-style command-and-control economy. Private property and free-enterprise remain alien concepts.

Consider remarks by Mateu Pereira, an adviser to Cuba's minister of labor and social security. Recently, he told the Financial Times that the state employs 4 million people in its 5.1 million labor force, with the rest working in the "non-state" sector. The Times, for its part, noted that "an estimated 1 million Cubans of working age do not seek employment."

Oh well, so much for all those economic reforms and "free" health care that - surprise, surprise -- were not enough to keep Misael Silverio on the communist island.

Reacting to the defection, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida tweeted: "Just hours after landing in the U.S., #Cuban pitcher Misael Siverio defected from baseball team. Welcome 2 land of freedom + opportunity!"