- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

So isn’t this nice — the Cuban government is going to donate any profits its baseball team receives from playing in the World Baseball Classic to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which apparently makes it OK for Cuba to come to America to play in the inaugural tournament.

What a heartwarming story. I wonder if we will see it on CNN some night — the joy on the faces of all those Katrina victims as they get some crumbs by way of Fidel Castro.

They should feel just like the residents of Cuba.

After initially denying Cuba in its effort to come to the United States to play in the event, based on the embargo against Cuba, the Treasury Department yesterday granted the necessary license. Major League Baseball and the player’s association had filed a request, with the Katrina-related offer added.

“The president wanted to see it resolved in a positive way,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press in an e-mail. “Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying. We believe the concerns have been addressed.”

You have to wonder about the connections between Major League Baseball and one of its former owners now residing at the White House — President George W. Bush, who once ran the Texas Rangers — and how that played a role in the decision to grant Cuba the license.

Baseball was facing a huge international embarrassment if Cuba was kept out of the tournament. Officials from the Baseball Federation of Puerto Rico, one of the venues for the tournament, had said they would not play host if Cuba was not included. And the International Baseball Federation, the sanctioning body of the tournament, had threatened to pull its sanction, leaving baseball’s first World Baseball Classic in danger of falling apart.

It was likely no accident that baseball kicked off its promotion of the tournament this week in Washington, at the residence of the Japanese ambassador to the United States. And President Bush’s former partner with the Rangers, Thomas Schieffer, now the U.S. ambassador to Japan, was front and center Tuesday night at the ceremony, which featured legendary home run kings Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh.

And U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth was pressuring the Bush administration to reverse its decision on Cuba, because it would hurt future efforts by American cities to hold the Olympics — as if that were a bad thing.

“It is important to any future bid city from the United States that this be reversed,” Ueberroth told the Associated Press when the Treasury Department initially turned down the license.

Nothing like some politics to take the politics out of this, eh?

Supporters of Cuba’s participation argued that to exclude it was to bring politics on the playing field. So I guess now that Cuba will be playing, there are no politics involved.

I guess it is not political that Castro has a policy that bans players who have defected from or are of Cuban descent — but were born in America — from playing for the Cuban team in the World Baseball Classic. No other country has such a ban. Heck, Mike Piazza is going to play for the Italian team. The only team A-Rod might not have been able to play for was Cuba’s.

I guess it is not political that of all the 16 countries participating in the tournament, only Cuba’s players won’t be allowed the option to decide that maybe they might want the freedom to make a living playing baseball and stay in the United States (if they get that far). Cuba is in Group B with Panama, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands, playing its first-round games in San Juan, and if they advance, the Cubans also would play their second-round games in San Juan. Other first-round sites include Kissimmee, Fla.; Phoenix; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Tokyo. Second-round games also will be played in Anaheim, Calif., and the semifinals and final will be in San Diego.)

I sure am glad that this isn’t going to be political now.

“Under Castro’s rule, everything is political in Cuba. Castro uses entertainment, athletics, academia, all facets of Cuban life as part of his propaganda,” said South Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Havana. “That is why so many athletes have defected to the United States whenever possible. He separates players from their families when they travel abroad to ensure that they will return. And he surrounds them with security.”

But now, at least, the Katrina victims will benefit from this oppression — just another story of human kindness, one of the byproducts of this glorious celebration of baseball that has now had politics removed from it.

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