CUBA

Cuban Baseball Player Smuggling Trial Reveals Awful Secrets

If you're wondering why Leonys Martin is late for Spring Training, ask the people who almost got him kidnapped

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Feb 22, 2017 at 4:03 PM ET

Leonys Martin hasn’t shown up for work yet. Though the Seattle Mariners are relying on the defensive whiz to help them make a postseason run, he’s over 2,300 miles away from the team’s Peoria, AZ Spring Training complex, testifying in Miami against his former agent, Bartolo Hernandez, and trainer, Julio Estrada. Both are on trial for running an alleged smuggling ring that spooked Cuban-born players into falsifying legal residency documents.

That all sounds scary enough until you hear about that time nine guys broke into Martin’s Cancun apartment and tried to kidnap him. From the AP:

Like other Cuban players who have testified in the case, Martin said he was whisked away from Cuba in 2010 by speedboat to Cancun, Mexico. Cuban players must establish residency in a third country in order to sign lucrative free agent contracts with Major League Baseball in the U.S.

While in Cancun, Martin said “eight or nine” men who said they were armed broke into his apartment with a crowbar and pressured him to leave with them. Martin refused and the men eventually left, but he said the alleged smuggling ring decided after that to relocate a group of players to Monterrey, Mexico.

“The people were looking for us so we had to put some distance between them and us,” Martin testified. “It was a difficult moment. We knew what bad things could happen.”

So, to recap: Martin jumps on a speedboat out of Cuba to Mexico with the alleged smuggling ring so he can sign with a Major League team. The ring brings him into Cancun where some kidnappers bust through his temporary crib and tell him to tag along. Martin listens to the wise counsel of moms everywhere and declines to follow strangers, especially a gang of nine, crowbar-wielding strangers. The smugglers then move Martin over 1400 kilometers to Monterrey, only to run into, you guessed it, more kidnappers. Martin escapes again, and following the alleged smuggling ring’s lead, walks across the border into the United States.

All this while being asked to sign contracts that gave Hernandez and the ring a combined 40 percent of his first MLB contract, an eventual $15 million deal with the Texas Rangers. That’s a lot of money to ask after almost getting your star player kidnapped—twice. Plus he had to pretend everything was chill by illegally posing as a humble auto mechanic in his residency documents, instead of a Major League quality baseball player.

Though all of this happened in 2011, the Mariners seem to understand the complicated nature of Martin’s issues. Besides being on official leave, Bob Dutton reports that the team placed lighthearted “Wanted” photos of Martin around the clubhouse, captioned with lighthearted quips like, “has a high-pitched voice that sounds like a Cuban on helium” and “misses signs repeatedly.”

If there’s anything to rejoice about in a terrifying ordeal rife with possibly exploitative behavior that sits in the shadow of a draconian, decades-long Cold War embargo, it’s a reminder that Leonys Martin has some good friends in Seattle.