Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cuba says it will rejoin Caribbean Series

Nation hasn't played in championship since Castro ended participation in 1960

Cuba is returning to the Caribbean Series.

Caribbean Confederation commissioner Juan Francisco Puello Herrera and Higinio Velez, the president of the Cuban Federation of Baseball, announced Monday that the island will participate in the annual tournament after a 53-year absence next February in Venezuela.

"Since I started my tenure in 1999, I've always had the desire to return Cuba to Caribbean Series," Puello Herrera told The Associated Press. "Now, I can say that for next year's tournament we'll start a 'third stage' with Cuba as an added asset."

The annual round-robin tournament currently includes the Winter League champions from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The winner of Cuba's Serie Nacional, the championship of its top league, will represent the island.

"The news is of special relevance to the Cuban people, Latin America and baseball," Velez said. "We are delighted that our return will happen in Venezuela, a brother country."

Puello Herrera said Cuba will assume all of the responsibilities of the other members, which includes eventually playing host to the tournament. He added that improvements have already begun on Estadio Latinoamericano de La Habana, the baseball stadium in Havana, and he's working with the U.S. State Department on the legalities associated with Cuba's return.

"We are really satisfied that after 14 years of negotiations, Cuba is finally returning to the Caribbean Series," Puello Herrera said. "We don't have approval from Major League Baseball for Cuba to participate in the Caribbean Series, but if Cuba can participate in the World Baseball Classic, we don't see why they can't be in the Caribbean Series."

The history of the Caribbean Series in Latin America traces back to the union of the leagues in Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela -- then called the Baseball Organization -- and the formation of the Caribbean Federation in 1948. After Cuba hosted in 1949, Puerto Rico played host in '50, Venezuela in '51 and Panama in '52.

The initial design of the series was 12 games, with each team squaring off against each other twice. Cuba won the title seven times from 1949-60. Puerto Rico won four times during that span, and Panama won its first and only Caribbean Series title in 1950.

In 1959, Fidel Castro took over and declared Cuba a communist nation, ending the country's participation in the event after 1960. Depleted, the Caribbean Series eventually disappeared for 10 years until a revival in 1970 that included the addition of the Dominican Republic and Mexico, and the removal of Panama from the tournament.

This year, a new format extended the double round-robin an extra day, with a championship game played between the teams with the two best records.

The 2014 Caribbean Series is scheduled to be played Feb. 1-7 at Estadio Nueva Esparta in Isla Margarita, Venezuela. Mexico's Yaquis de Obregon hosted the 2013 version of the tournament in Hermosillo, Mexico.

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