Once a Caribbean Series powerhouse, Cuba is set to return to the tournament for the time since 1960.
The winner of Cuba's Serie Nacional, between Villa Clara and Matanzas, will represent the country in Venezuela in February 2014, joining Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the annual tournament.
At least, that's the plan.
Caribbean Confederation commissioner Juan Francisco Puello Herrera, who has tried to bring Cuba back to the series since 1999, told The Associated Press that he's working with the U.S. State Department to sort out any legal issues involved in the return of Cuba.
"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.”
Cuba showcased one of the most talented rosters at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, possessing eight of Baseball America's top 10 international prospects in the tournament. Two of those prospects play for Matanzas. Second baseman Jose Fernandez—a 25-year-old, 5-foot-10, lefthanded hitter—was the No. 2 prospect in the WBC and has been compared to Placido Polanco and Howie Kendrick with his ability to cover the plate. Also 5-foot-10, 22-year-old Matanzas outfielder Guillermo Heredia replaced Yoenis Cespedes in center field in the WBC and shows above-average defensive skills.
Those players could be in action at the Caribbean Series, where Cuba hasn't fielded a team in 53 years. The nation hosted and won the first Caribbean Series in 1949, and went on to win the series a total of seven times in an 11-year span, including five titles in a row from 1956 to 1960. The series discontinued for 10 years after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a communist nation, but it resumed in 1970 without Cuba as a member.
With Cuba reportedly rejoining the tournament in 2014, it will also take on hosting duties in the future, duties that have rotated among the member countries. Puello Herrera said renovations have already begun on the baseball stadium in Havana, Estadio Latinoamericano de La Habana.
The 2014 series will be played at Estadio Nueva Esparta in Margarita, Venezuela, beginning Feb. 1.
“The news is of special relevance to the Cuban people, Latin America and baseball,” Cuban Federation of Baseball president Higinio Velez told The Associated Press. “We are delighted that our return will happen in Venezuela, a brother country.”