MLB player becomes American citizen years after escaping Cuba
In 2013, Yasiel Puig had just signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was a rising star in Major League Baseball. The rookie had just signed a seven-year contract worth $42 million — but he wasn’t always safe and secure. Just a year prior, he was being smuggled into the United States.
Puig’s harrowing escape from Cuba was detailed in Los Angeles Magazine by journalist Jesse Katz. His story captivated America — and now, Puig announced he is now a U.S. citizen.
“Thank you God for this great opportunity to be an American citizen,” said Puig, who now plays for the Cleveland Indians.
His road to citizenship was not an easy one. Puig was smuggled from Cuba through Mexico, by a Miami man named Raul Pacheco, according to the Los Angeles Magazine story. Pacheco offered Cuban smugglers $250,000 to get Puig into the U.S. – with the help of a Mexican drug cartel.
Pacheco didn’t immediately pay up – and Puig was kept in a motel off the coast of Cancun and held captive for more than 20 days “as the price for his head is being negotiated,” Katz told CBS News in 2014.
Pacheco eventually sent a rescue team that brought Puig to Mexico City. “And literally within a couple days he’s auditioned for Major League scouts,” Katz said. He was then signed to the Dodgers.
That $42 million contract? Well, 20% of Puig’s lifetime earnings will go to Pacheco, the man who helped him get into the country, according to the Los Angeles Magazine story.
In 2014, Katz described Puig’s story as human trafficking, saying: “I think on this end, Major League Baseball, the Dodgers, the U.S. government, doesn’t really want to know about what he went through and what he suffered to get here.”
Author Peter Bjarkman said the U.S.’ relationship with Cuba makes it a complicated process for baseball players to move here for work. “Players in other countries don’t have to defect,” Bjarkman told CBS News. “Because of Major League Baseball’s regulations, in order to sign as a free agent, he has to first take residence in a third country. He can’t come directly to the United States.”
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