For decades, Cubans have defected from their country to escape the rule of longtime revolutionary leader and former dictator Fidel Castro, who died Friday night.

Gifted baseball players were among those who defected to the United States, where they pursued their dreams in Major League Baseball. One of those players, Luis Tiant, pitched for 19 seasons in the majors and had a memorable eight-year stretch with the Boston Red Sox.

Following the news of Castro’s death, Tiant spoke with ESPN writer Marly Rivera about the former Cuban leader, including how his rule impacted baseball players.

“You couldn’t leave. You had to defect. That was hard, but the worst was worrying about your family and what could happen to them. They lectured you on what they would do to your family if you did not come back. That was the system. So many great players were unable to develop because they couldn’t get out. There were so many good players who stayed.

“(Castro) hampered the development of baseball. Cuba was the country with the most Latin American players in the majors until the regime took over and set everything back. It’s incredible, all those players that were unable to succeed, so many good ones. When I played, when I left, there were 50 or 60 players as good as me or better than me. And they could never get out. They all stayed there.

“That’s a hard thing, because everyone in life must have an opportunity to be someone, to be able to do what you love, what you dreamt of as a child. That should not be taken away from anyone. That is what happened: they took away the freedom, the happiness, the dreams that one had as a boy, all you wanted to be and never could. I have to thank God, my wife, my family, that at least I was lucky enough to be able to get here. I left, and I went through all that I went through, but I got here. Of course, it was not easy, but at least I had that opportunity that many others did not have.”

Former outfielder Jose Canseco also sent out a series of tweets.

Click to read Tiant’s full comments on Castro at >>

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images