ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series, which has covered a lot of powerful sociological topics related to the sports world, is set this weekend to air "Brothers in Exile," focusing on the Hernandez brothers, Livan and Orlando "El Duque," who risked everything to play baseball in America.

"I don't think it's politics, it's a God-given right to be free," said Orlando to Latin Post at the Tuesday New York City premiere of the film, which debuts on ESPN Deportes Saturday night and on ESPN Tuesday Nov. 4. "We were put on this Earth to be free, to have free thought. That's not politics. These players should have the right to leave and play wherever they feel like it without any problems." 

"Brothers in Exile," directed by Mario Diaz -- who has previously worked on "The Clemente Effect" for ESPN Deportes as well as "Bazooka: The Battles of Wilfredo Gómez" and "Viva Cepeda!" for HBO Latino -- in conjunction with MLB Productions, takes a look at the plight of the Hernandez brothers, half-brothers who escaped Cuba's communist government separately and went on to become Major League Baseball (MLB) stars, each winning World Series rings despite the extremely difficult paths they took to achieve their dreams.

"This is not about about 'El Duque' or Livan," said Orlando during the Q-and-A portion of the premiere. "This is something many Latinos have to go through, particularly Cubans, during this process, this path to find freedom."

It was difficult for Orlando to contain his emotions during the New York City screening as he discussed the movie with the audience and looked back at those hard times.

"I said I wasn't going to cry, but it's impossible," said "El Duque." "I have so many emotions -- happiness, sadness -- a lot of memories. But we are thankfully enjoying the fruits of our sacrifices and this hard work. I apologize for being so emotional but I'm very happy."

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Both pitchers were considered superstars in their native Cuba as young kids. Orlando was a rock star on the island of Cuba, having won a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics and leading the Industriales of Havana, the ball club he played for in the Cuban National Series, to championships in 1992 and 1996. Livan was the younger hotshot prospect who was following in his older brother's footsteps.

Yet despite their success and as the country descended into what was known on the island as the "Special Period in Time of Peace" in which the Soviet Union's collapse threw Cuba's economy into a tailspin, Livan wanted more than the $6-a-month salary he was paid. In the film, Livan speaks in great detail about how he and other members of the Cuban national team would look forward to international road trips in order to collect soap, toilet paper and other amenities provided for free in their hotel rooms to bring back home to their families.

As his frustration boiled over, Livan talked with his brother about the possibility of defecting from Cuba before making the decision to leave everything behind. Livan would desert the Cuban national baseball team in 1995 while the squad was training in Monterrey, Mexico, sneaking away in the middle of the night as a van awaited for him to make his escape.

Livan's decision would have repercussions on Orlando despite the fact that "El Duque" had no desire to leave the national team or his wife and children behind. First, Orlando was left off the 1996 Atlanta Olympics roster, and later, he was banned from playing baseball for the Industriales despite a 126-47 record with a 3.05 ERA and a winning percentage of .728 -- a record that still stands to this day.

While Livan went on to help the Miami Marlins win a championship in 1997, including striking out 15 batters in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves and earning the Most Valuable Player award in the World Series, Orlando was enduring constant harassment from the Cuban government, costing him his marriage and his career.

Fed up with being treated akin to a prisoner by the Cuban government, Orlando would eventually make the move to the United States in 1997, fleeing with his future wife, Noris Bosch, and six other people on Christmas Day -- the first time the island was celebrating the holiday -- escaping on a boat that left the group on an island off the Bahamas, Anguilla Cays, to await for a second boat that would take them to America.

The second boat would never arrive.

The desperate group waited for days, not knowing if or when anyone would find them, until a U.S. Coast Guard ship would eventually find and rescue them.


Orlando would once again earn his crown as "El Duque" after signing with the New York Yankees, his favorite ball club that he most admired when he played for the Industriales, and helping the Yankees make four straight World Series appearances, winning three titles with the organization as well as the 1999 American League Championship Series MVP award.

For all the political changes in Cuba that have occurred since Raul Castro replaced his brother, Fidel, as president of Cuba, history seems to repeat itself with players such as Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Yasiel Puig, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman, Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, and Boston Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Céspedes fleeing the communist island, taking the same risks as the Hernandez brothers in search for a better life and a chance to ply their trade.

Orlando is humbled by the fact that he is viewed not only as a role model by future major league ball players trying to achieve the success he has attained but by baseball fans who have immigrated to this country and understand the struggles he has gone through in his life.

"I'm very proud of that," said Orlando to Latin Post. "What I take from that is that you should work hard, but you shouldn't forget where you're from. You have to stay grounded because if you forget [where you came from], when you fall, you fall hard."