Cuban Players Petitioning Bush

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Byline: Thom Loverro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A group of Cuban professional baseball players will send a letter to President Bush today asking him to support their effort to play in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

The players will also ask the Major League Baseball Players Association to represent them in their request to MLB to recognize their team and also to urge the withdrawal of the invitation to the Cuban national team to compete in the international tournament.

However, MLB officials said yesterday they are proceeding with their efforts to include the Cuban national team in the 16-team World Baseball Classic, and have reapplied to the Treasury Department for a permit to allow the team to play in the United States, according to MLB spokesman Pat Courtney.

A group of congressmen from South Florida, led by Lincoln 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 in the tournament, which is March 3-20 in the United States, Puerto Rico and Japan. The Cuba embargo prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have a financial interest. But a revised plan was submitted that will not consist of direct payments to the Cuban team.

Yesterday, several Cuban players and coaches met with Diaz-Balart in his Miami office to coordinate plans to push an application by the Cuban Professional Baseball Federation to participate in the tournament. The meeting did not include some of the higher profiled players as advertised, such as Washington Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez. But Ana Carbonell, chief of staff for Diaz-Balert, said Hernandez, who was in Puerto Rico on business, issued a statement saying he would be part of the team, as did his brother, Orlando.

Carbonell said the players are sending letters to President Bush, MLB and the players union stating their case and seeking help. …