HAVANA (AP) — Cubans signed to Major League Baseball organizations and other foreign clubs will join national stars for the first time on the national team that will play in the World Baseball Classic, officials announced Wednesday night.
The Cuban Baseball Federation has long defended the idea of amateurism and punished those who left the island to seek their fortune in professional baseball.
But things changed when a state television program announced the roster of 30 players of the Cuban national team who will play in the international tournament which begins on March 8 in Taiwan.
The team will include Chicago White Sox third baseman Yoán Moncada and center fielder Luis Robert plus three players from the Triple-A rosters: Detroit Tigers Toledoo Mud Hens infielder Andy Ibáñez, Oakland Athletics’ Las Vegas Aviators and Kansas City Royals Omaha Storm Chasers right-hander Ronald Bolaños.
Also on the team will be former New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, a 37-year-old two-time All-Star who last played in the major leagues in 2018.
Two Cubans playing in Japan were drafted, outfielder Yurisbel Gracial of the Pacific League’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and catcher Ariel Martínez of the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons.
To arrange for MLB players to participate, Cuba had to obtain special permission from the United States because Washington maintains sanctions against Cuba. Under the agreement, those players are prohibited from coming to Cuba to work with the team.
Baseball is the national sport in Cuba but economic hardship, the philosophy of limiting the movement of athletes and the temptations of professional contracts abroad have decimated the game on the island.
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