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Jewish World Review July 26, 2000 /23 Tamuz, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Safe at home: Andy Morales makes it -- REMEMBER when the best dancers in the Bolshoi could be found in the New York City Ballet, and the best Russian musicians were playing in Washington's symphony? There's nothing like a Communist regime to enrich the American cultural scene.

The pattern continues. The best Cuban ballplayers now populate this country's major leagues: El Duque, a k a Orlando Hernandez, pitches for the New York Yanquis, and his half-brother Livan hurls for the Giants. The Mets boast their own cultural exchange at shortstop: Rey Ordonez.

And now third-baseman Andy Morales is talking to at least three major league clubs. He had an agent -- Gus Dominguez -- as soon as he made it to the American shore, if not before.

Morales doesn't always connect. Note that this is his second try at making it to the big leagues; he was thrown out at home by the U.S. Coast Guard last month, when his plea for political asylum was rejected. Only the most determined make it out of Fidel Castro's farm club. Then they have to get past American customs.

Andy Morales' home run for the Cuban all-stars against the Orioles last year didn't sway the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It rejected his plea for political asylum. Cuba's system doesn't allow free agents. In baseball or hardly anywhere else.

Sure enough, when he was shipped back to Cuba, Andy Morales was put behind a desk, not third base.

"We assured him that what he asked for, he would have,'' explained Humberto Rodriguez, caudillo of the Cuban Sports Institute.

But what the third baseman wanted was to play on Cuba's national team. He must have been looking forward to those exhibition games in Baltimore or Toronto in particular.

But as Baseball Commissar Rodriguez explained, the authorities decided they needed to watch Comrade Morales for a while to determine if he had the correct `attitude'' before they let him play again. He wasn't referring to Andy Morales' batting stance, but his political one.

That's understandable. There were all those away-from-home games to consider. One day Morales could round third and keep going. Or argue with the umpire, get sent to the showers and never return.

Have you noticed? Whatever rate of exchange may be specified in a trade agreement with a Communist country, the West inevitably gets the better of the cultural exchange. Our visiting artists tend to visit, theirs to stay. Even now Cuban culture and sport is thriving -- 90 miles north.

Ever hear of an American artist, no matter how eloquent he may be on the subject of this rotten capitalist society, who can't wait to slip away and settle down in Communist Cuba? Or enjoy the delights of any other Stalinist gulag?

When was the last time you heard of an American writer or athlete on a grand tour of some Potemkin country who seizes the opportunity to stay there? Heck, can you think of a first time? Admirers of Communist systems may not have the best judgment, but crazy they're not.

Andy Morales didn't stick with that desk job long. He caught the the next boat he could and made landfall near Key West last week with eight other escapees. Having reached American soil, he can't be turned back under current law -- unless, of course, Janet Reno decides to dispatch a small armed force to nab him in the middle of the night. Maybe she could find another magistrate in Miami who thinks of people as contraband to be seized. Is there such a thing as a search warrant for third basemen?

Meanwhile, the Cuban government is fuming and the agitprop is flowing. "This shows the immorality and the criminality of the killer Cuban Adjustment Act,'' said Lazaro Barredo, a "journalist'' with a Communist weekly called Trabajadores, which means Workers. His work is to spew the party line, and in this case to defend the idea of captive third basemen. The way the Soviet Union once tried to hold onto its best dancers and cellists.

Don't you love it? The "killer'' Cuban Adjustment Act. What it kills is the Party's pretenses about all those happy little Cubans just a-singin' and a-dancin' in the sugar cane down on Fidel's plantation.

Twenty thousand Cubans are allowed out legally every year, and that quota isn't nearly big enough. Which explains why the Andy Moraleses take to the high seas. Not all of them make it, but they're willing to take their chances rather than remain under the Party's watchful eye.

Another luminary of fidelista journalism, Reinaldo Taladrid, offered his analysis of Andy Morales' latest play, too. It sounded a lot like sour grapes. In a government broadcast Thursday (in Cuba, they're all government broadcasts) Comrade Taladrid assured listeners: "Luckily, here there are 10 third basemen who are equal to or better than Andy Morales.''

That's promising. Something tells us those shipping lanes are going to be even busier. As we say here in the land of the Great Leagues, Bienvenidos and, yes, Play Ball! Once he gets into the line-up, Andy Morales will soon learn that those are the last two words of our national anthem.

Maybe if little Elian started practicing his curve ball now. ...

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate