- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Washington Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez is expected to be among the Cuban baseball players who will meet today with Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, to discuss plans to put together a team of Cubans to compete in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

A group of major and minor league players, all of whom either have defected from Cuba or have Cuban heritage, want to form an organization called the Association of Professional Cuban Players to petition not only organizers of the World Baseball Classic but other international tournaments, sources said.

Others expected to participate in the meeting in Miami include Hernandez’s brother, Orlando, who was traded by the Chicago White Sox to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday; Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Danys Baez; Atlanta Braves catcher Brayan Pena and Los Angeles Angels infield prospect Kendry Morales.

The issue of allowing Cuban players in the World Baseball Classic — a World Cup-style competition that is being promoted heavily by Major League Baseball and its players union — has become a point of contention.

A group of congressmen from South Florida, including Cuban native Diaz-Balart, successfully lobbied the Bush administration to deny Cuba a permit that would have allowed its national team to play in the United States during the tournament, which will be held March 3-20 in the United States, Puerto Rico and Japan.

Under an edict by Cuban president Fidel Castro, players who defected from Cuba or are of Cuban descent but were born in America cannot play for the Cuban team in the tournament. Diaz-Balart called that policy is unfair, and he criticized MLB and the MLB Players Association for supporting Castro’s policy.

Meanwhile, both MLB and the union are hoping to persuade the Bush administration to allow the Cuban national team to compete in the tournament.

Cuba was scheduled to play its three first-round games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. If the Cubans advanced, they also would play their second-round games in Puerto Rico, which, as a U.S. commonwealth, is subject to its trade laws. The championship will take place at PETCO Park in San Diego on March 20.

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