Cuba allowed to compete in world tourney


Published: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
NEW YORK - Cuba will be allowed to play in the World Baseball Classic, after all.
The Bush administration issued a license Friday allowing the Cubans to participate in the 16-team tournament.
Baseball's first application was denied in mid-December by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, but the commissioner's office and the players' association reapplied after Cuba said it would donate any profits it receives to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"The president wanted to see it resolved in a positive way," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying. We believe the concerns have been addressed."
U.S. laws aimed at punishing Fidel Castro's communist government prohibit certain commercial transactions with Cuba, generally attempting to deny money.
"Working closely with World Baseball Classic Inc. and the State Department, we were able to reach a licensable agreement that upholds both the legal scope and the spirit of the sanctions," Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said.
"This agreement ensures that no funding will make its way into the hands of the Castro regime. The Treasury is pleased to now be able to issue this license and looks forward to seeing all of the teams showcase their talents on the international stage."
After the initial rejection, the International Baseball Federation threatened to withdraw its sanction of the tournament if Cuba was not allowed to participate and Puerto Rico threatened to withdraw as a host.
"We were always positive," said Antonio Munoz, the promoter who paid millions of dollars to stage the first two rounds in Puerto Rico. "There were some negative people, but they were wrong in the end. I always said there was no Plan B. There was only one plan: That Cuba would come and that all efforts should be focused on obtaining approval."
U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth had called on the Bush administration to reverse its decision, saying banning Cuba could hurt future American Olympic bids.
n BRAVES: John Smoltz is "ecstatic" about the way his arm feels after the first two weeks of his offseason throwing program.
Smoltz, who finished the 2005 season with inflammation in his right shoulder, has had four operations on his right elbow. Despite the painful end to last season, he had a successful return to the starting rotation, going 14-7 with a 3.06 ERA.
There was widespread concern about Smoltz's durability last year after four seasons as the Braves' closer, but he led the staff with 33 starts and 222 innings.
"It was an incredible year," he said this week.
The 38-year-old Smoltz says he is confident his arm will be ready for another season.
"It's feeling great," he said Wednesday. "I'm ecstatic with the way it feels today, even a month before we report for spring training."
  • PHILLIES: Outfielder Jason Michaels agreed to complete 100 hours of community service to settle charges that he allegedly assaulted a city police officer.
    Under the terms of a program for first-time offenders, Michaels can seek to have his record expunged after completing the community service with the Police Athletic League.
  • WHITE SOX: Manager Ozzie Guillen celebrated his 42nd birthday by becoming a U.S. citizen along with his wife Ibis and their son Oney.
    "It's a great feeling," Guillen said. "The funny thing about this is when I won the World Series, a lot of people felt that was my dream. That was my goal, to win the World Series. ... To do this is something real special."
    n A-ROD: Alex Rodriguez changed his mind and decided to play in the World Baseball Classic - for the United States - because of his status in the sport, The New York Times reported.
    "At the end of the day, I realized how important it was for me to play because of the position that I have in the game," the New York Yankees third baseman told the newspaper. "When I looked at that, I felt I needed to be there."
  • ISHII LEAVES TO JAPAN: Former New York Mets pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii is returning to Japan after four seasons in the major leagues.
    Ishii, who was released by the Mets in December, agreed to a two-year contract on with the Central League's Yakult Swallows, team officials said.
    Cuba won the Olympic gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, and the United States won in 2000. Olympic baseball was initially limited to amateur players, but even after professionals were allowed in for the 2000 Sydney Games, major leaguers didn't participate because baseball doesn't stop its regular season for the Olympics.
    Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens are among the big-name players on the U.S. roster, and Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero are on the Dominican team. Puerto Rico and Japan also are expected to be among the top teams at the tournament.
    Cuba is in Group B with Panama, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands, playing its first-round games in San Juan. If they advance, the Cubans also would play their second-round games in San Juan.
    Other first-round sites include Kissimmee, Fla.; Phoenix; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Tokyo. Second-round games also will be played in Anaheim, Calif., and the semifinals and final will be in San Diego.
    U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, called the Bush administration's reversal "lamentable and unfortunate," and said the Cuban players should defect once they reach Puerto Rico.
    "I hope that the Cuban players will use this opportunity to escape totalitarianism and reach freedom in the U.S.," said Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American.
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