SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -Cuban baseball player Alexei Ramirez will seek Dominican citizenship and hopes to sign with a major league team by the end of October, his Florida-based agent said Thursday.
Ramirez, who hit 20 home runs and batted .335 with 68 RBIs last season in Cuba, said his decision was about family, not politics.
``I do not consider myself a deserter. I took this step to be with my family,'' Ramirez told The Associated Press as he sat with wife and two young children at a Santo Domingo hotel.
Ramirez spent most of his seven years with Pinar del Rio as a second baseman and outfielder but hopes to sign as a shortstop to follow in the footsteps of favorite players Ozzie Smith, Rey Ordonez and Omar Vizquel.
His agent, Jaime Torres, said at least six teams have already expressed interest.
Ramirez, who is about to turn 26, left Cuba on Sept. 6 aboard a direct flight from Havana to Santo Domingo, said Torres, who also represents Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras.
Living in the Caribbean country on a tourist visa that will be valid for several more weeks, Ramirez has applied for residency and will then seek citizenship as the husband of a Dominican.
He plans to keep his Cuban citizenship as well, Torres said. Ramirez said he someday hoped to return to Cuba, ``if it's God's will.''
If that approval comes through as planned, he will begin the process with U.S. immigration officials to get a visa to play in the United States, Torres said.
Officials with the Dominican immigration department could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Ramirez and his 30-year-old wife, Mildred, met while she was studying medicine in Cuba, the couple said. They now have two children: a year-old son, Alexei, and a four-month-old daughter, Alexa.
Several Cuban ballplayers have used Dominican residency as a stepping stone to U.S. baseball, including recent defector Kendry Morales, now of the Los Angeles Angels.
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Associated Press writer Dionisio Soldevila contributed to this report.
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