HAVANA ( Associated Press) — Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Yoenis Cespedes lead a list of veteran Major League Baseball players who were named Wednesday to the team that will represent Cuba at the World Baseball Classic in March.
Half a dozen major league baseball players (MLB) or residents of the United States and a few others who play on foreign teams will make up the roster, along with local stars.
For the first time, the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) called up active players in professional MLB clubs. It is an unusual occurrence for the island—a traditional powerhouse in the sport—which for decades defended amateurism and punished those who left the country, attracted by talent scouts or million-dollar contracts.
On Wednesday night, in a star-studded program on Cuban television, the definitive list of 30 baseball players called up for the championships, set to begin March 8 in Taichung, Taiwan, was announced. A pre-selection was formed at the beginning of the month with 50 members.
Robert, a center fielder for the Chicago White Sox, hit 12 home runs last season and drove in 56 runs with a .284 average. Over the course of three seasons in the majors, he has accumulated 36 homers, 130 produced and a .289 average.
His partner Moncada had 12 home runs, 51 RBI and a .212 average this season. Cumulatively in their careers, the third baseman has batting averages of 82, 299, and .253, respectively.
Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a two-time Major League Baseball All-Star, hasn’t played in the majors since 2018 after being traded from the New York Mets.
Other major league call-ups are infielder Andy Ibanez (Detroit Tigers); pitcher Luis Miguel Romero (Oakland Athletics) and pitcher Rolando Bolaños (Kansas City Royals).
Two baseball players placed in the Japanese league, outfielder Eurisabel Gracial and catcher Ariel Martínez, were also on the list of the team that would be led by Armando Johnson and would make their debut against the Netherlands.
The participation of MLB players on the Cuban team in these weeks was not without controversy. The organizers of the event had to request special permits from the United States for the athletes, as Washington maintains sanctions against Cuba.
The FCB and the island’s authorities expressed regret that the license prevented them, for example, from visiting Cuba. Thus, they could only join the team five days before the start of March, a treatment that Cuban leaders consider discriminatory and would also put the Caribbean team at a technical disadvantage.
Baseball is the national sport in Cuba, but economic difficulties, a philosophy of restricting athletes’ movements, and the temptation of juicy contracts abroad decimated the local scene.
Sports authorities indicated from the beginning of the process that MLB’s attendance was announced that under no circumstances would they call those who left in the middle of competitions.
Andrea Rodriguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP