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Morales gets citizenship in Dominican Republic

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Cuban slugger Kendry
Morales obtained residency in the Dominican Republic, making him
eligible to negotiate a free-agent contract with any major league
team, he said Thursday.

Morales, a 21-year-old switch-hitting outfielder and first
baseman, left Cuba in June on a boat with 18 others, a few weeks
before the wife of White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras defected.

Morales landed in Miami and was granted asylum in the United
States. He later left for the Dominican Republic, where authorities
granted him residency earlier this week.

The move allows him to avoid a special U.S. baseball draft for
Cuban players that would have prevented him from negotiating
contract terms. A Cuban player that acquires residency in a third
country is eligible for free-agent status.

"I'm so happy that I finished this step in the process to get
to the major leagues in the United States," Morales told The
Associated Press. "Now that I have Dominican residence, I will
begin hearing offers."

Morales became a sensation in Cuban baseball two years ago. He
played in Havana for the highly successful Industrialists, batting
.324 with 21 home runs, 82 RBI and 60 runs scored. He was
immediately called up to the national team.

Cuban authorities, however, later cut Morales from both the
national team and the Industrialists because they suspected he
wanted to defect during a pre-Olympic tournament in Panama last
year.

They also did not select him to be on the team that competed in
the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo in 2003.

"I only want to play baseball -- something they were stopping me
from doing in Cuba," Morales said. "In Cuba, I never dreamed of
the major leagues as a possibility. My dreams were to play for the
national team. When I fulfilled those dreams, they shattered them
for me."

Morales joins several other Cubans who chose to establish
residence in this Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation. In 1996,
Osvaldo Fernandez and Livan Hernandez became Dominican residents
before signing contracts with major league teams.