Cuban ex-stars want to play in the World Baseball Classic

Every few years, the same feeling of longing returns to Yuli Gouriel and Aldams Diaz.

The Houston Astros defected from Cuba, leaving the teams representing the island as they traveled abroad, so they could pursue their dreams of playing baseball at the highest level. Both went on to play in the world championships several times, earned millions in the United States and were recognized for their individual achievements.

But every time the World Baseball Classic – the international tournament that features many of the world’s best players – has been held, Juriel and Diaz have only been able to watch their teammates leave spring practice to put on their home countries’ uniforms. Cuban players like them are staying behind. With another edition of the international tournament scheduled for next spring, Guriel and Diaz fear that this situation will return again.

“It’s sad,” Diaz, 31, said in Spanish recently. “It gives us a little bit of envy, our lack of being and not being able to do the same,” added Goriel, 38.

Reason for exclusion: The Cuban Baseball Federation does not allow players who defected from the communist country to represent it in international competition. The banned players list has grown exponentially since the first WBC World Championships in 2006, with many of Cuba’s top talent leaving the island.

Cuban expatriates in majors can make up one of the best teams in the world. The lineup could feature stars such as Astros-appointed hitter Jordan Alvarez, Chicago White Sox’s Jose Abreu, and Tampa Bay Rays’ Randy Arrosarina. The promotional staff could include dignitaries such as Nestor Cortes and Aroldes Chapman of the Yankees. And if the Cuban Americans qualify, the team could include Boston Red Sox player J.D. Martinez, third St. Louis Cardinals Nolan Arenado and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Alec Manoah.

That is why current and former Cuban players, businessmen and lawyers formed a group to search for a solution this year. The goal of the Cuban Professional Baseball Players Association is to put together the best team of Cuban professional talent from around the world to compete in the WBC

“We want any player who wants to represent his country,” Diaz said. “Cuba is for everyone. It is not just those who are for or against the government.”

The federation swelled to 170 members from major, minor, and other foreign professional leagues, such as those in Mexico, Japan, and Taiwan. She bears a logo and a jersey—in the colors of the Cuban flag, but without a flag—and chose a name: Cubans, or Cubans, an ode to the Havana Sugar Kings, the minor league team based in Cuba that played in the AAA class from 1954 to 1960.

Despite these efforts, the federation and the players argue that they do not want to replace the CFA, which the Trump administration said was part of the government in Havana when it scrapped a deal in 2019 between MLB and the federation that would have eased a path for players to compete in the United States without a defection. The federation is envisioning a national team independent of the Cuban Federation – but with an open door for players on the island.

“We represent Cubans from all over the world who want to see this and want to see a team of all the professional players,” said Los Angeles Angels closest to Razel Iglesias, 32, who led the offensive among the active Cuban players, reaching out to them and sharing updates via WhatsApp. He later added: “And if possible, invite the players who are under the supervision of the Cuban Federation.”

Iglesias said, however, that accepting such an offer would be “really difficult”. Although World Baseball Classic is operated as a joint venture between MLB and the MLB Players Association, the event is endorsed by the World Baseball Softball Association, the sport’s global governing body. There is a system in place that prevents outside groups from forming national teams.

“If they want to be part of an event that is sanctioned by the WBSC, they have to respect the rules, which is that the national federations make up the national teams,” said Riccardo Fraccari, president of the federation, in a telephone interview from Switzerland. , Where there is.

Vracari was alluding to a WBSC law which states that only recognized members can choose their national team and have “the exclusive right to represent the name of the country or territory, flag and colours”. He continued, “If this is not the case, they can hold another tournament, which will be up to them and wherever they want, but not an event approved by the World Federation.”

(Fracari noted that there are Cubans who play abroad, as in Japan, and are allowed to return. However, they are on loan from the Cuban Federation, which takes a portion of their salaries. Last month, Cuban authorities agreed to allow their baseball players to manage their contracts. Own professional career with teams in foreign leagues.But no deal with MLB was revived.)

Although the Cuban Federation did not respond to messages seeking comment, it criticized the fledgling Cuban Association in April. In an official statement, the federation described the federation’s goals as “political, not sporting” and said the group is pressing the MLB and the players’ union to ” usurp the place that legitimately belongs to the Cuban national team in the upcoming WBC.”

Mario Fernandez, the president of the federation, said the group was ready to sit down and talk with the CAF – but under certain conditions. First, he said, the federation deserves a public apology to players it believes have been insulted and mistreated.

We wouldn’t sit down to talk to them if it didn’t happen,” said Fernandez, a businessman who left Cuba at age 28, established a semi-professional association in Chile and now lives in the United States. “If they say sorry and it won’t happen again, that is a very good start. But we see it as going to be very difficult because of the policy involved.”

The Cuban national team, once a world power, has been through hard times. She failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and while she has appeared in all five editions of the World Baseball Classic, she has struggled for the most part, finishing second in 2006 and out of the top four at every edition since.

“Baseball in Cuba is bad,” said Chapman, 34, who played for the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. “He has fallen a lot. The majority have left and they are here.”

Hoping to build a strong team, and one not limited to the baseball pros who remained in Cuba, the association chose Orlando Hernandez, 56, a former bowler who won four World Series titles, as its general manager. For the field manager, he chose Brian Peña, 40, a former league player who is a minor league manager for the Detroit Tigers system.

Fernandez said players outside Cuba have been talking about finding a way to represent their island since the first World Baseball Classic. While previous efforts had failed, he said, things happened that made this push different, including non-players stepping in to help lead the effort; The Cuban government’s crackdown on protests last year, which motivated some players; The number of prominent Cuban players in Major League Baseball continues to grow. (There were 23 Cuban-born players on the league’s major rosters on the opening day of this season, and they tied 2016 and 2017 more than ever.)

Diaz said, “It is something we are fighting for because we are in the 21st century, and the Cuban Federation does not allow Cuban players in major tournaments to play for their country perhaps because of thinking differently or playing for a moment. Freely and playing wherever and whenever they want to play.”

Last month, Iglesias and Fernandez said the federation met Tony Clarke, the president of the MLB Players Association, via video conference. Last week, a few association representatives in New York met with a group of MLB officials led by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Fernandez said the federation is considering challenging the World Baseball Softball Association, citing Section 3.1 of the Board Act, which prohibits any discrimination on various grounds including “political affiliation.” “We do not discriminate against anyone,” said Fraccari, the president of the federation, who has been in a relationship with Cuba throughout his career.

But recognizing the uphill battle facing the federation, Fernandez and Iglesias said the group had discussed the possibility of at least forming their Cuban team for exhibition games, and perhaps facing some WBC teams before heading into the competition.

Curtis, 27, said playing for his home country is among his lifelong dreams. He was born in Cuba but moved to South Florida before he was one after his parents won the visa lottery. Curtis, who is a US citizen, said he understands that the situation is complicated, especially for players whose families were abused in Cuba.

“What is happening is difficult and what we have to do,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we have to do what we have to do to represent and show the world that Cuba is a strong force and that there are really good baseball players that come from Cuba.”

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