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Cuban brothers defect during youth baseball tournament in Dominican Republic

ORLANDO, Florida -- Two Cuban brothers participating in a youth baseball tournament in the Dominican Republic defected during the championship game celebration with the help of adult relatives and event organizers, according to DR police, who talked to ESPNDeportes.com.

Roberto Campos Proenza, 13, and Raul Campos Proenza, 14, left the rest of their teammates on Saturday while celebrating a championship victory in the sixth Punta Cana International Tournament.

Witnesses reported that the children boarded an all-terrain vehicle after saying goodbye to their friends. Roberto, who plays third base, was the tournament's MVP.

"Initially we received the report of a possible kidnapping, but after the first investigations, we determined that the children were taken by some relatives, presumably the father," said police colonel Carlos Martinez, who heads the police department of Verona and Punta Cana.

"We have several text messages and conversations between the children and their mother in Cuba, where she orders them to stay in the Dominican Republic," Martinez added. "In one of the messages, the children begged their mother to convince the father to let them finish the tournament before picking them up."

A DR police spokesman said they didn't know the whereabouts of the children and will keep the investigation open.

"It is unfortunate that unscrupulous adults take advantage of a personal and family effort like this for defection. It's crazy, considering they are children," Noel Tortolón, coach of the Cuban team, told ESPN.

"I talked with Tamara Proenza, the mother of the children, and after some efforts to evade the questions, she told me to be quiet, that the children were with their father, Yunier Campos," the manager added. "We didn't know that the father was in the DR. Apparently he organized everything from Cuba, or traveled alone to Santo Domingo."

Tortolón said the Cuban delegation, including the brothers who escaped, have visas to stay in the Dominican Republic until Sept. 8.

"It's amazing that something like this [can] happen," said Robinson Paredes, president of the Punta Cana Baseball League, which organizes the championship. "All these children were here last year and played in the tournament in the 11-12 category."

Over 800 players representing 48 teams from Aruba, Cuba; the United States; Mexico; Puerto Rico; Panama and the Dominican Republic played in the tournament. The Cuban delegation featured children from different neighborhoods of Havana.

The defection of Cuban players is not new, considering the DR is currently the most direct route to playing organized ball in the United States.

During the last Caribbean Series in Santo Domingo in February, the Cuban brothers Lourdes and Yulieski Gurriel left the Cuban club of Ciego de Avila to pursue their dream of playing Major League Baseball.

Yulieski, the eldest brother and star of the Cuban national team, recently signed a five-year, $48 million deal with the Houston Astros.

"That an adult athlete makes a decision like this, for whatever reasons, is to some extent understandable," Paredes said. "But what these children will do in the Dominican Republic? Even if they are good players, and they are, they are still very far from being professional."