A group of Cuban major leaguers will meet tomorrow with Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart to discuss forming a team to play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March.
Diaz-Balart (above), Florida Republican and a native of Cuba, declined to identify the players but said they have enough for every position, plus a manager. ”
“Cuban players have rights, too,” Diaz-Balart said. “They are organizing and want to play together as a team.”
The issue of Cuban players in the tournament — a World Cup-style competition that is being heavily promoted by Major League Baseball and the players union as a historic event — has become a point of contention.
A group of congressmen from South Florida, including Diaz-Balart, successfully lobbied the Bush administration to deny Cuba a permit that would have allowed its national team to play in the United States during the tournament, which will be held March 3-20 in the United States, Puerto Rico and Japan.
Under an edict by Cuban president Fidel Castro, players who have defected from or are of Cuban descent but were born in America cannot play for the Cuban team in the World Baseball Classic. Diaz-Balart said that policy is unfair to those players, and he strongly criticized MLB and the union for supporting Castro’s policy.
“These Cuban players are the only ones in the major and minor leagues who can’t play for their country of origin,” Diaz-Balart said. “The players union, which is supposed to be representing these players, is just following the company line of Major League Baseball, which in turn is doing what Castro wants. That is a sick policy.
“All other national baseball associations want major leaguers to play for their teams,” Diaz-Balart added. “But because Castro says they are nonpersons because they defected or their families left Cuba, now these players have no rights. I think that is ridiculous.”