- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

A group of Cuban professional baseball players will send a letter to President Bush today asking him to support their effort to play in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

The players will also ask the Major League Baseball Players Association to represent them in their request to MLB to recognize their team and also to urge the withdrawal of the invitation to the Cuban national team to compete in the international tournament.

However, MLB officials said yesterday they are proceeding with their efforts to include the Cuban national team in the 16-team World Baseball Classic, and have reapplied to the Treasury Department for a permit to allow the team to play in the United States, according to MLB spokesman Pat Courtney.

A group of congressmen from South Florida, led by Lincoln 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 in the tournament, which is March 3-20 in the United States, Puerto Rico and Japan. The Cuba embargo prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have a financial interest. But a revised plan was submitted that will not consist of direct payments to the Cuban team.

Yesterday, several Cuban players and coaches met with Diaz-Balart in his Miami office to coordinate plans to push an application by the Cuban Professional Baseball Federation to participate in the tournament. The meeting did not include some of the higher profiled players as advertised, such as Washington Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez. But Ana Carbonell, chief of staff for Diaz-Balert, said Hernandez, who was in Puerto Rico on business, issued a statement saying he would be part of the team, as did his brother, Orlando.

Carbonell said the players are sending letters to President Bush, MLB and the players union stating their case and seeking help.

“They believe they are being discriminated against by not being able to participate in the classic,” she said.

They also are asking for withdrawal of the invitation to the Cuban national team, which under Fidel Castro prohibits professional players from participating, to the tournament.

Former Boston Red Sox bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, now with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Latin American operation, was one of the former Cuban players who met with Diaz-Balert, and said there has been a lot of interest among Cuban players to take part in their team.

“We have enough players,” Rojas said. “We can field a team to compete. We are just trying to represent our country of origin. We are not asking for anything different than what other players are doing, and we would like the players union and Major League Baseball to help us.”

Greg Bouris, spokesman for the players union, said it would not comment on the matter until it gets a proposal from the Cuban players.

“We will listen to whatever they have to say,” Bouris said.

Courtney said the tournament is sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation, and they have to deal with their rules and regulations.

“We are dealing with those baseball federations recognized by the International Baseball Federation,” he said.

The decision by the Treasury Department to deny a permit to the Cuban national team met with strong opposition from Puerto Rican officials. Israel Roldan, president of the Baseball Federation of Puerto Rico, sent a letter on Wednesday to IBF president Aldo Notari saying the island would decline to be a venue because of the U.S. government’s decision.

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.

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