HAVANA (AP) — Cubans on Major League Baseball teams or other foreign clubs will for the first time join local stars on the national team that will play in the World Baseball Classic tournament, officials announced Wednesday evening.
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 roster 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 Rolando 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 has not performed in Major League Baseball since 2018.
Two Cubans who play in Japan’s baseball league, outfielder Yurisbel Gracial and catcher Ariel Martinez, were also picked.
To arrange participation of the MLB players, Cuba had to get special permission from the United States, since Washington maintains sanctions on Cuba. Under the agreement, those players are barred from coming to Cuba to work with the team.
Baseball is the national sport in Cuba but economic difficulties, the philosophy of restricting the movement of athletes and the temptations of professional contracts abroad has decimated the game on the island.