Within hours of El Duque's arrival at the complex, Joe Cubas, the Miami sports agent who specializes in representing Cuban-born baseball players and who had been tipped off that Hernandez was being detained, showed up at the refugee center. Though El Duque's half-brother Livan Hernandez, the Florida Marlins pitcher, had had a bitter falling out with Cubas after defecting to the U.S., in 1995, a partnership was born when Cubas pressed $500 into El Duque's hands and flashed him a smile. "Cubas was always talking about all the money El Duque was going to make," says Romero. (According to Vanguard, Cubas, a bearded man of Danny DeVito-like proportions, will be played in the movie by Latin heartthrob Antonio Banderas.)
Presumably because of their status as ballplayers, El Duque and Alberto Hernandez were offered humanitarian visas to the U.S., as was Bosch, but the other five members of the party were not. Because, as he would say at a Miami press conference several weeks later, his "morals did not permit me to leave the other five passengers behind," El Duque refused the American visa. Bosch, who accepted the offer and flew to Miami, told Gear magazine, "I was pleading with him [to accept an American visa]. But he said no. For him, friendship is the most important thing. When he has a friend, he will stay with them until death divides them."
Once Cubas arrived, however, El Duque also had another reason to decline the American offer and seek asylum elsewhere. Under Major League Baseball rules, a Cuban player who accepts asylum in the U.S. is subject to the draft, while a Cuban player who obtains residency in a third country is considered a free agent. Having exploited this loophole on numerous occasions, Cubas laid out the plan to El Duque in the Bahamas; El Duque told the rest of the group. Using his connections, Cubas obtained Costa Rican visas for El Duque and the six others and whisked them to Central America in a Learjet.
Sure enough, within weeks a bevy of scouts had descended on Costa Rica, and their teams engaged in a bidding war for El Duque that the Yankees eventually won. His contract secured, El Duque embarked on the good life and, to hear the Romeros tell it, hasn't turned back since to check on the fate of his old captain. "I want him to win, and I cheer for him to win," says Geidi. "I just wish he had not left us behind while he got what we all got into that boat for."
Since then, the marketing of El Duque has spun into high gear. Cubas not only wasted little time peddling the movie and the autobiography—"He obviously doesn't know the book business or what this story is worth," says a top editor at one New York publishing house that rejected the book, "because he was asking for crazy money"—but also gave his client-cum-meal-ticket a crash course in the niceties of capitalism. Early into the season El Duque began coyly refusing to recount the story of his escape, standing by silently while the breathless media engaged in a Rashomon-like retelling of his tale. On those occasions when he did speak of the voyage, he often contributed to the myth. "If the sharks didn't frighten me when I was floating around in the Caribbean," he told NBC during the ALCS, displaying the same guile he would show on the mound, "the Cleveland Indians won't frighten me either." Ain't that America.
Cubas did not respond to repeated calls from SI requesting an interview with Hernandez. El Duque could rightfully point out, however, that his renown as a ballplayer helped the group quickly gain asylum in Costa Rica—other refugees have been stuck in the Bahamian detention center for many months—and that Cubas helped Romero and his wife in a number of ways after their arrival in Costa Rica, such as putting them up in a hotel for a couple of weeks and paying their first month's rent. In remarks to The Miami Herald last February, Cubas, the son of Cuban immigrants, addressed complaints from the Romeros and fellow refugee Pedroso that El Duque and Cubas weren't doing enough to help them. "You aren't owed anything," Cubas told the Herald. "Those three have come here with such mistaken minds. My father came here with nothing, eating crackers and cat food, and he never asked for anything. You aren't owed anything here. You must earn it. Let them drown."
Whatever the resolution of Hernandez's legal contretemps with Romero, you won't be hearing about it if and when the raft-to-riches movie comes out. "It's a very inspiring story of a true hero," says John Williams, a producer for Vanguard, "but the story of El Duque will be over when he meets Joe Cubas and comes to the United States. That's when the movie ends."