Cuba To Participate In World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic field is set. At least, Cuba says it is.

Cuba, the world’™s dominant team in international baseball
competition, has accepted an invitation to participate in the 16-team
tournament scheduled for next March–the last of the 16 teams to
confirm its participation.

As the last Communist nation in the Western Hemisphere, however,
Cuba does things differently. The official announcement did not come
from World Baseball Classic organizers; rather, it was broadcast on
state-run media in Cuba on Thursday, with Teodoro Perez, chief of
Cuba’™s delegation to the tournament, confirming the island nation’™s

Paul Archey, Major League Baseball’™s senior vice president of
international operations, said MLB has yet to receive an official
response from Cuba, “but I’™ve seen the same report that you saw, and
we’™re very pleased to see that they have accepted.”

The Cuban announcement also stole the thunder from a press
conference set for later this month, when Puerto Rico was going
announced its selection as a host for the first round of the Classic.
Cuba will play in Puerto Rico, an American commonwealth, and the Cuban
announcement said U.S. officials would not allow Cuba’™s team to arrive
until 24 hours before their first game in the Classic in early March.

“The United States refused permission to visit until the last moment,” Perez said.

Cuba and Japan were the only nations in the field that were not
confirmed participants when the World Baseball Classic was formally
announced during all-star festivities in Detroit in July.

Japan’s participation was considered a certainty, but Cuba’™s entry
was questionable because of its relationship with the U.S., and Archey
stressed, “The invitation is always qualified, subject to State
Department approval.”

“They’re not formally in yet,” Gene Orza, the chief operating
officer of the players association, told the Associated Press on

“There’s a process that you have to go through to play with the
Cubans, through the United States government. The license has been
applied for. We’re hopeful for a favorable response. I personally don’t
believe that the participation of Cuba poses any problems,” he said.

Cuba’™s inclusion will pit its top players against major leaguers for
the first time since Cuba played the Orioles in exhibition games in
1999, splitting games played in Havana and Baltimore. Cuba has
dominated international baseball in the absence of big leaguers,
winning Olympic gold medals in 1992, ‘™96 and 2004 and silver in 2000,
when the U.S. won its only gold since baseball became a medal sport in
1992. Cuba also has won the last nine World Cups, the latest coming
last month in the Netherlands.

Archey said Cuba’™s participation is the part of the building
momentum for the Classic, which continues to pick up steam as March
2006 approaches. First came the announcement of San Diego’™s Petco Park
as the site of the semifinals and finals, March 18-20. Next up: the
press conference in Puerto Rico.

“We’™ve made tremendous progress,” Archey said. “You’™ll start to see
news trickle out every week, and we’™ll have some major announcements
after the conclusion of the (major league) postseason.”

In other news, Venezuela’™s state-run news agency said Yankees
third-base coach Luis Sojo will manage its entry in the Classic, with
former Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion and minor league manager Omar
Malave as assistants.