Former Cuban stars want to play in world baseball classics

Once every few years the same feeling of longing for Yuli Guriel and Aldem Diaz returns.

Houston Astros inspectors left Cuba and abandoned the island’s representative teams during a trip abroad so they could pursue their dreams of playing top-level baseball. Both have played multiple times in world series, earned millions in the United States and have been recognized for individual achievements.

But every time there is a World Baseball Classic – an international tournament featuring many of the world’s best players – Guriel and Diaz could only watch as their teammates leave spring training to wear their country uniforms. Cuban players like them are left behind. Another edition of the international tournament scheduled for next spring, Gurieli and Diaz fear that this situation will come out again.

“It’s unfortunate,” Diaz, 31, recently said in Spanish. Gurieli, 38, added: “It gives us a little envy not to be there and to do the same.

Reason for their exclusion: The Cuban Baseball Federation does not allow players from communist countries to represent it in international competitions. The list of banned players has grown significantly since the first WBC in 2006, when much of Cuba’s most talented players left the island.

Cuban expatriates in majors can form one of the best teams in the world. The lineup could include stars such as Astros, named striker Jordan Alvarez, Chicago White Sox’s first bassman Jose Abru and Tampa Bay flight winger Randy Arozaren. Pitching staff may include the likes of Nestor Cortes and Aarold Chapman from the Yankees. And if Cuban Americans were empowered, the team could include Boston Red Sox slager JD Martinez, St. Louis. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher is Alec Mano.

So this year, current and former Cuban players, businessmen and lawyers have formed a group to look for a solution. The Cuban Professional Baseball Players Association aims to create the best team of professional Cuban 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. This is not just for those who are for or against the government. “

The association has grown to 170 members, including major and minor leagues and other foreign professional leagues such as Mexico, Japan and Taiwan. It has a logo and T-shirts – in the colors of the Cuban flag, but without the flag – and chose the name: Cubans, or Cubans, ode Havana Sugar King, a Cuban-based small league team that played in the AAA class. From 1954 to 1960.

Despite these efforts, the association and players insist they do not want to change the Cuban Federation, which the Trump administration said was part of the Havana government when it rescinded an agreement between the MLB and the federation in 2019 that would ease the deal. A way for players to compete in the United States. The association envisions a national team independent of the Cuban Federation – but with an open door for players on the island.

“We are Cubans from all over the world who want to see this and want to see a team of all professional players,” said Raisel Iglesias, 32, who led the active Cuban players in the Los Angeles Angels. Meet them and share updates via WhatsApp. He later added: “And if possible, invite players who are under the Cuban Federation.”

However, Iglesias said it would be “really difficult” to accept such an offer. Although the World Baseball Classic operates as a joint venture between the MLB and the MLB Players Union, the event is sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the global governing body of the sport. And there is a system that prevents outside groups from forming teams.

“If they want to take part in an event sanctioned by the WBSC, they have to respect the rules that set national teams for national federations,” Ricardo Fracari, president of the Confederation, said in a telephone interview from Switzerland. , Where it is based.

Fraccari referred to the WBSC Charter, which states that only recognized members can choose their national team and have “the exclusive right to represent the name, flag and colors of a country or territory.” He continued: “If not, they can arrange another tournament that will depend on them and where they want, but not an event sanctioned by the World Federation.

(Frakari noted that there were Cubans who played abroad, for example in Japan, who were eligible to return. However, they borrowed from the Cuban federation, which cut their salaries. Last month, the Cuban government agreed to allow them. But the deal with MLB has not been restored.)

Although the Cuban Federation did not respond to requests for comment, it criticized the Cuban Association in April. In an official statement, the federation called the association’s goals “political and not sports” and said the group was pressuring the MLB and the players’ union to “steal a place that legitimately belongs to the Cuban national team in the next WBC”.

Mario Fernandez, president of the association, said the group was ready to sit down and talk to the Cuban federation – but under certain conditions. First and foremost, he said he deserved a public apology from the federation for players who he thought were “annoyed and mistreated”.

“We are not going to sit down and talk to them if that does not happen,” said Fernandez, a businessman who left Cuba at the age of 28, founded a semi-professional league in Chile and now lives in the United States. “If they apologize and it does not happen again, this is a very good start. But we see that it would be very difficult because of the policies involved. ”

Once upon a time, the Cuban national team, with world power, went through difficult times. He failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and although he appeared in all five editions of the World Baseball Classic, he struggled for the most part, finishing second in 2006 and then beyond four in each edition.

“Baseball is bad in Cuba,” said Chapman, 34, who played for the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. “It fell very much. “Most are gone and here they are.”

Hoping to build a strong team that is not limited to baseball professionals staying in Cuba, the association has chosen Orlando Hernandez, 56, a former pitcher who has won four World Series titles, as general manager. Brian Penia, a 40-year-old former Big League player who is a minor league manager in the Detroit Tigers system, was chosen as the field manager.

Fernandez said players outside Cuba are talking about finding ways to present their island after the first world baseball classic. Although previous attempts have failed, he said things have happened that could lead to change, including the intervention of non-players to help guide the effort; Violent crackdown by the Cuban government on protests last year, which has rejuvenated some players; And the number of prominent Cuban players in baseball major leagues continues to grow. (On the opening day of this season, 23 Cuban-born players were on the top league list, the most related in 2016 and 2017.)

“This is what we are fighting for because we are in the 21st century,” Dias said, “and the Cuban Federation does not allow Cuban players to play in the big league for their country to think differently or play for a minute. They play freely and wherever and whenever they want. “

Last month, Iglesias and Fernandez announced that the association met with Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Union, via video conference. Last week, several representatives of the association met in New York with a group of MLB officials led by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Fernandez said the association was considering challenging the World Baseball Softball Confederation under Article 3.1 of the governing body, which prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including “political affiliation”. “We do not discriminate against anyone,” said Fracar, the president of the Confederation, who has had ties to Cuba throughout his career.

But knowing what a difficult battle awaits the association, Fernandez and Iglesias said the association considered the possibility of at least forming a Cuban team for the exhibition games, possibly before some WBC teams before they go to competition.

Cortes, 27, said playing in his home country is among the dreams of his life. He was born in Cuba but moved to South Florida before he was 1 year old after his parents won a visa lottery. Cortes, a U.S. citizen, understands that the situation is complicated, especially for players whose families have been mistreated in Cuba.

“It’s difficult what is happening and what we have to do to play,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we have to do what we have to do to show and show the world that Cuba is power and that really good baseball players are coming out of Cuba.”

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