When the Orioles made the unprecedented move to play the Cuban national team in Havana on March 28, 1999, the stated purpose was to improve relations between the countries through a sporting exhibition.
There was no way of knowing that 14 years later a young Cuban fan in the stands that afternoon would be wearing an Orioles uniform and preparing to play at their spring training complex.
Wednesday, 26-year-old outfielder and Cuban defector Henry Urrutia made his first public statements about receiving his work visa — after spending a total of 18 months in the Dominican Republic and Haiti — and finally joining the organization that gave him a $778,500 signing bonus last July.
“He said when he put on his uniform and walked on the field, the first thing he did was take a big breath, and he felt a lot of satisfaction. He finally was here,” Urrutia said through interpreter Felipe Alou Jr., the Orioles’ Dominican Academy director. “He’s ready to go, probably the happiest thing that’s happened to him the last couple of years. He’s really happy and thankful that the Orioles are giving him this opportunity.”
Urrutia (pronounced ooh-root-e-ah) had some familiarity with the Orioles because he watched them back in 1999 during their historic game at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. Urrutia’s father and uncle are highly regarded former players in his home country.
“He was present at the game in Cuba. They really enjoyed it,” Alou said. “They could see the bonding among the players, the Cubans and the Orioles players. He said it was something real special. The Cuban people really appreciated that.”
Orioles' Henry Urrutia expects to be a major leaguer
Baltimore Sun | Mar 7