HAVANA ( Associated Press) – Cuba began its training sessions with a view to the World Baseball Classic and made no secret of its expectation to progressively include a variety of figures active at major league clubs in the United States.
Third baseman Yoan Moncada and center fielder Luis Robert, both from the Chicago White Sox, are among a group of star players on the United States professional circuit called up to the Cuban team for the first time. It is a gesture that shows a change in the philosophy of the game with which they hope to strengthen their performance in the fifth edition of the tournament to be held in March.
“In previous years we haven’t had this opportunity to share with Major League players,” veteran outfielder Yurisbel Gracial, one of 50 shortlisted by the Cuban Baseball Federation for the championship, told The Associated Press. “We’re going to go along with everything… We want to keep Cuba’s name high.”
“It is a fundamental endorsement that they are with us in this championship,” said Gracial, who plays ball for Japan with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
There are less than two months left for Cuba’s debut in the first round group, which will have Taiwan as hosts. Their other opponents will be the Netherlands and Panama.
Training sessions behind closed doors began this week at the capital’s Latin American stadium, the main one on the island. Players who have already been released from their clubs, both on the island and abroad, participate. The rest will be added gradually.
Although it was reported in recent days that the squad would travel to the Dominican Republic for a training base, the directors announced this Monday that in early February the athletes will head directly to Japan where friendly games are scheduled and other players will also be involved. . Summoned, for example by those who play in Mexico, in the Major Leagues or as part of a local series operating on the island itself.
“I think they can teach us a lot, because they have tremendous experience facing the best pitchers in the world … how professional baseball is run in the United States, how to go out on the field and improve. necessary,” commented Associated Press catcher Ariel Martinez.
Cubans expect the final list of 30 participants to be delivered by January 24 – February was previously mentioned – to allow enough time to complete the necessary immigration procedures and permits.
“The technical group, led by Armando Johnson, will evaluate 50 athletes, either during work sessions at the Havana stadium, appreciate the finals of the Elite League (the national championship of Cuba) and through monitoring it will work on the data that will be used abroad. I am essentially ready,” the Cuban Baseball Federation said in a statement on Monday.
Seven Cuban baseball players with recent appearances in the Major Leagues were called up to join the team for the first time. The United States government would give them a special license to compete.
Special permits were necessary because the United States maintains a policy of sanctions against the island in all areas.
In addition to Moncada and Robert, infielder Andy Ibáñez (Detroit Tigers); pitcher Yon López (New York Mets); outfielders Lazaro Armenteros and pitcher Luis Miguel Romero (Oakland Athletics) and pitcher Rolando Bolaños (Kansas City Royals). López signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan in December.
Another call was outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, who was twice called to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. He hasn’t played in the majors since 2018 after being traded from the Mets.
They will be joined by a few more players from local teams playing in leagues in Mexico, Japan or the Dominican Republic. The managers emphasized that they would not call up foreign players who had left in the middle of competitions during these years.
At the same time, Cuba maintained a policy against professionalism in sports for years and did not allow its athletes to perform in other latitudes until the last decade, severely punishing those who left the island.
Lured by juicy contracts overseas, especially from the MLB, an increasing number of figures leaving the country or abandoning them during their competitions; The performance of baseball powerhouse Cuba was negatively affected. In 2017, Cuba participated in the Clásico with only players from local milieu and lost all three games in the second round before being eliminated.
Andrea Rodriguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP