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Thursday, May 31
Updated: June 1, 6:17 PM ET
Cuban defector must wait for federal judge's ruling

TAMPA, Fla. – A decision on Cuban defector Rolando Viera's federal discrimination lawsuit against Major League Baseball is expected Monday, three days after U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore heard testimony on Friday.

Viera, who is seeking to evade baseball's amateur draft, filed a request for a temporary restraining order on Thursday after the commissioner's office determined the left-handed pitcher was not eligible for free agency earlier this week.

In Friday's hearing, Viera's attorney, Alan Gura, claimed that Major League Baseball discriminates against Cuban players by placing those who come to the United States in the league's amateur draft. Other foreign players, including Cuban players who take up residence in other Caribbean or Central or South American countries, are declared free agents who can sign with any team.

They're very obstinate. I don't know why they don't just treat Cubans like all other foreigners.
Alan Gura, Cuban pitcher Rolando Viera's attorney

If Viera loses, he could be selected in Tuesday's amateur draft, a scenario that could cost him financially. Free agents often command higher signing bonuses and salaries because they can field offers from any team.

"They're very obstinate," Gura said Thursday of baseball rejecting Viera's request for free agency. "I don't know why they don't just treat Cubans like all other foreigners."

The only players forced into the June draft are residents of the U.S., including Puerto Rico, and Canada, according to baseball rules. Baseball, which defines a resident as someone who "establishes legal residence" in the U.S., automatically considers Cuban defectors as U.S. residents unless they establish legal residence in a third country.

Whittemore is being asked to determine whether baseball's notion of legal residence – that the U.S. is now where Viera lives – supercedes the federal government's definition. Viera, 27, arrived in Miami on April 24 on a U.S. visa, but remains a Cuban citizen in the eyes of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

He can petition to become a U.S. resident after one year, if he chooses.

In a response filed with the court on Thursday, an attorney for baseball denied that its decision to put Viera in the draft violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on national origin. He also cited the desire to "ensure competitive balance among the teams and (prevent) wealthier teams from cornering the top talent."

Viera, a former Havana Industriales teammate of New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, was 18-10 with a 3.12 ERA in his final two seasons. He was suspended last November, before the most recent season, when Cuban baseball officials learned he had won the right to apply for a U.S. visa.

Monday's ruling on the temporary restraining order could act as a prelude to a preliminary injunction hearing later in June. A victory by Viera at either hearing could provide relief for other Cuban defectors, who traditionally have acquired legal residence in Central and South American countries – sometimes after they had already arrived in the U.S. – in order to avoid the draft.

Residence in those third countries has become more difficult to come by in the past couple years, as relations have warmed between Cuba and other countries in the region. Agents also have found baseball more reluctant to grant free agency to Cubans who seek to become residents of those countries.

Joe Kehoskie, Viera's agent, lost two Cuban defectors as clients in March after baseball officials said they could not verify whether those players had become legal residents of the Dominican Republic. Those players, pitcher Mayque Quintero and infielder Evel Bastida, played with Viera on Industriales, one of Cuba's top teams and a favorite of President Fidel Castro.

Kehoskie said several teams have expressed interest in Viera, who could be among the 1,500 players taken in the draft if his request for a temporary restraining order is denied. Viera is known as a control pitcher with a good curveball, forkball, slider and a fastball in the 90 miles-per-hour range.

Tom Farrey is a senior writer with

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