Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cubans Anxious For Their Team to Go to WBC

Associated Press
Posted: 1 day ago

HAVANA (AP) - Cubans are hopeful that their national team will get a chance to play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic despite a U.S. government decision threatening to exclude the communist island nation.

"I want Cuba to participate so we really can see the level of Cuban baseball," said Antonio Mayeta, whose brother plays on Havana's Industriales team.

Like Mayeta, U.S. Major League Baseball hasn't given up yet, sending senior vice president Paul Archey to the island earlier this week to go over tournament logistics with Cuban officials.

Archey was accompanied by MLB players union lawyer Doyle Pryor, according to Rich Levin, a spokesman for the commissioner's office of the U.S. league.

Cuban authorities have not released details about the trip, and local media was not advised of the visit.

The U.S. Treasury Department last month denied MLB's application for Cuba to play its scheduled first-round games in Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. Later rounds are scheduled on the U.S. mainland.

The license is required under 45-year-old American sanctions against Cuba aimed at preventing Fidel Castro's government from receiving U.S. currency.

After Cuba promised to donate any money received to victims of Hurricane Katrina, MLB - which is running the tournament along with the players union and sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation - reapplied for a license. MLB is still awaiting word on that second application.

The IBAF has said it will not sanction the tournament if Cuba isn't allowed to play.

"They cannot take away our opportunity to see our national team go up against the players from the major (American) leagues," said Cuban print shop worker Bilmar Rodriguez.

Castro has said he wants Cuba to play in the tournament as well, saying last month that "we will participate and demonstrate that we know what to do in baseball."

The World Classic opens in Japan on March 3 and Cuba is set to play Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands in Puerto Rico in the first round.

Next Tuesday is the deadline for teams to turn in their preliminary player lists. Each team will initially present a list of 60 names that will later be reduced to 30.

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