MLB: Too soon to confirm Cuba roster
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Pitcher Adiel Palma is reportedly among the players on Cuba's WBC roster. (Eric Gay/AP)
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The 60 players on the Cuban baseball roster that will compete in the upcoming World Baseball Classic were announced on Tuesday in Havana. But Major League Baseball officials in New York said they could not confirm the names at this point.
"We have yet to sign an agreement with Cuba, so we cannot officially announce the roster," said Pat Courtney, a spokesman for the Commissioner's office. "We are doing our due diligence internally to properly set up Cuba's participation in the event as we did with the other 15 teams and hope to be able to announce their roster officially within the next week."
Major League Baseball received word nearly two weeks ago that the U.S. Treasury Dept. had granted a license so Cuba can play in the upcoming event, the first international baseball tournament to include Major League players. The games are set to be played from March 3-20 in the United States, Japan and Puerto Rico, with Cuba competing in a first-round bracket in San Juan with Panama, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands.
Cuban President Fidel Castro said last week that the invitation to participate had been accepted.
The Associated Press in Havana reported that 26 pitchers are among the 60 players already beginning to practice for the event, including such local staples as Pedro Luis Lazo, Danny Betancourt, Adiel Palma, Maikel Folch and Luis Borroto.
Offensive leaders in the current Cuban National Series -- Michel Enriquez (.442 batting average), Osmani Urrutia (.439), Yulieski Gouriell (16 homers) and Vismay Santos (16 homers) -- plus catchers Ariel Pestano, Eriel Sanchez and Roger Machado are apparently also on the roster. Veteran players include Carlos Tabares, Yoandri Urgelles, Frederich Cepeda, Alexei Ramirez and Eduardo Paret, the national team's current captain, The AP said.
The other 15 teams in the tournament filed their provisional rosters on Jan. 17. The deadline for each to cut down to 30 players is five days before the start of the tournament on March 3 in Tokyo Dome.
Cuba is the preeminent baseball power on the international scene and the winner of three of the four Olympic gold medals since baseball became a medal sport in 1992. They were the winners of the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the 2004 International Baseball Federation World Cup in the Netherlands. The Cubans have won the latter tournament 25 times since its inception in 1938. The IBAF World Cup is now played on a bi-annual basis and Cuba has won 12 of the last 13 gold medals dating back to 1976 (South Korea won in 1982).
Cuba has never competed against MLB players at the international tournament level. The closest it came was splitting a pair of exhibition games against the Baltimore Orioles in 1999, losing in Havana and winning at Camden Yards.
Even with approval of the license for Cuba to compete, MLB officials must deal with the State Dept. about obtaining visas for the players to enter Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, for the first round. The second round is also scheduled for San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium and Cuba would complete there if it is one of the two teams to rise out of the early bracket.
The semifinals and finals are in San Diego's PETCO Park from March 18-20.
Instructions in the license limit the amount of personnel the Cubans can take into the country, limiting the usual large security contingent that follows the team everywhere. The Cuban government can't receive any financial remuneration from the tournament and members of the traveling party are being paid $100 a day for meals.