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Pena: More Cubans await their chances

CINCINNATI — When and if the Cuban embargo is lifted, the U.S. will be deluged with more than fine cigars. Major League baseball teams probably will charter airplanes to haul the talent out of Cuba and back to the United States. The only question is if teams will have enough money to sign all the talent in Cuba that is already fairly close to being major league ready.

President Barach Obama already has started the process and Cuban-born Cincinnati Reds catcher Brayan Pena prays it moves forward.

“I’m a U.S. citizen now and my home is here in the United States, but I’d like to visit my country, see the Cuban beaches, see my relatives. I have cousins I haven’t seen since I left the country 17 years ago. I have cousins I’ve never seen.”

THERE ARE MORE than 30 Cuban-born defectors on major league roster and the Reds have three in Pena, Aroldis Chapman and Raisel Iglesias.

And there are more ready to take the plunge of dangerous defection, players who can’t wait for an embargo lift. And there are some who want to come but fear for themselves and their families if they try it.

“I do see a lot of Cuban players coming,” said Pena. “Remember, back in the day, before the Castro regime closed the borders. There were a lot of Cuban players here. They were a great influence for a lot of us.

“We all know there is great talent down in Cuba and those people want to play at this level. It is exciting because there is a lot of talent to be discovered. Baseball is our No. 1 sports. What else can we do? There is boxing and soccer, but when it is about baseball everything changes.

PENA SAYS HE can’t wait for the day when all the Cuban players can be together, either on the homeland or in the U.S.

“There are a lot of Cuban players down there who are afraid to leave the country, afraid to leave their families. But they all know it is the chance they have to take right now. You have to defect, take a raft, a very difficult thing to do when you think about your family.

“But at the same time our commitment to the game in the States is the reason we did it, it is a dream that can come true for all of us,” he added. “Our Cuban baseball population here continues to grow because every time somebody defects and makes it, they have a good chance of playing in th big leagues.”

PENA KNOWS THE embargo lift isn’t a sure thing and adds, “There is a lot of speculation and it takes time. It won’t happen overnight. Until then, we keep learning to adjust. It will be a brand new process because we grew up with the Castro government. So for now for things to be loosened up and communications open is good. At the end of the day, I never lose hope and want to go back to my country to visit. I’ll never leave America. This is my home and I am super proud to be here.”

DESPITE A 4-and-7 record at Class AA Pensacola, Robert Stephenson, the Reds No. 1 pitching prospect, was promoted to Class AAA Louisville.

While he was 4-and-7 with a 3.68 ERA this year in his first 14 starts, during five June starts he had a 2.53 ERA. And for the season he has averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

“He got off to a slow start, but has found himself at the Double-A level, which was a real challenge for him,” manager Bryan Price said of the 22-year-old right hander drafted No. 1 in 2011. “He is getting his curve ball over consistently, something he was challenged with earlier in the year to do. He has a split-changeup that he has incorporated into his mix, giving him a quality third pitch.”

Stephenson spent a year-and-a-half in Double-A and Price said, “I’m sure he is chomping at the bit to get to the Triple-A level.”

ASSISTANT BATTING instructor Lee Tinsley has been put on administrative leave after he was arrested in Carrollton, Ky. Thursday and charged with driving under the influence.

“We’re still gathering information,” said manager Bryan Price. “With the holiday weekend the police report won’t be out until next week. He is on administrative leave and that’s all we’ll say about that. It’s fact-finding at this point in time and that might take a little time.”

BECAUSE OF BRANDON Phillips’ success, manager Bryan Price continues to use him in the leadoff spot and Billy Hamilton in the nine-hole.

“We’re always a better team when Brandon Phillips is in the lineup and he has been good in that leadoff spot,” said Price. “That’s big for us because it allows me to keep Hamilton down in the lineup as a speed guy who can set the table as we get back to the top of the lineup.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: After an off day Thursday, manager Bryan Price said, “It has been a long challenging run with long rain delays and extra innings and the bullpen has been highly taxed. It was a good time for us to have a little time to get rested and recollected.”

JOKE OF THE DAY: From Scouts Corner in the Great American Ball Park, one scout said to another, “I hear the Cardinals are letting go most of their scouts and telling them, ‘We don’t need scouts any more. We get all our information off the internet and it’s free.”

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