Mix of professionals, amateurs on Cuba’s World Baseball Classic team

HAVANA – For the first time, Cubans on Major League Baseball teams or other foreign clubs will join local stars on the national team to play in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, officials announced Wednesday night.

The Cuban Baseball Federation long defended the idea of ​​amateurism and punished those who left the island to seek their fortunes in professional baseball.

But that changed when a program on state television announced the list of 30 players for Cuba’s national team that will play in the international tournament that begins March 8 in Taiwan.

The team will include infielder Andy Ibáñez of the Detroit Tigers, pitcher Luis Miguel Romero of the Oakland Athletics, pitcher Ronald Bolaños of the Kansas City Royals, and third baseman Yoán Moncada and center fielder Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox.

Also on the team will be outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who played for the New York Mets but hasn’t been in the majors since 2018.

Two Cubans who play in the Japan Baseball League, outfielder Yurisbel Gracial and catcher Ariel Martinez, were also selected.

To arrange the participation of the MLB players, Cuba had to have special permission from the United States, as Washington maintains sanctions against Cuba. According to the agreement, these players are barred from coming to Cuba to work with the team.

Baseball is the national sport of Cuba, but economic difficulties, the philosophy of restricting the movement of athletes and the temptation of professional contracts abroad have decimated the game on the island.

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