MLB optimistic Cuba will play in WBC

MLB optimistic Cuba will play in WBC

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Major League Baseball's second in command said on Wednesday night that he was still "guardedly optimistic" that the U.S. Treasury Dept. will approve a reapplication for a license so Cuba can participate in the upcoming inaugural World Baseball Classic.

MLB filed the application on Dec. 22, a week after the Treasury Dept. denied the initial application, ostensibly on financial grounds, thus barring Cuba from the 16-team tournament that is currently scheduled from March 3-20 in the U.S., Japan and Puerto Rico.

"We remain guardedly optimistic and are looking forward to receiving a positive response to our application," Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said after a meeting of the executive council during the first day of owners' meetings this week. "Hopefully, in a matter of days."

Paul Archey, MLB's vice president of international business operations, was in Cuba this past week to assure the government of President Fidel Castro that baseball was indeed moving forward on the reapplication.

Archey said on Wednesday that a response from the government is "imminent." Since the other 15 teams in the competition filed their provisional rosters late Tuesday night, time is now of the essence with the start of the event just 44 days away.

The Treasury Dept. rejected the license for Cuba to participate because the long-standing economic embargo of that island nation "prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest," a spokesman for that department said last month.

The new application stipulates that any financial gain for the Cubans would be made as a charitable contribution and Castro has said that those funds would be earmarked for U.S. victims of Hurricane Katrina. Officials representing MLB and the players association, which are in tandem sponsoring the tournament, have been discussing the matter with the Treasury Dept.

"We've been in contact with them daily," DuPuy said. "We are hopeful, based on our dialogue with them and based on the response that we've made to their concerns. We've addressed the issues that they've raised and hopefully we'll get a positive response."

Since the reapplication was filed, Puerto Rican baseball officials said that if Cuba is barred, they wouldn't host the two rounds scheduled for San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium, although MLB could stage the games there without that support.

Cuba is scheduled to play in Pool C from March 7-10 along with Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands. The second round is also scheduled to be played in San Juan from March 12-17.

The International Baseball Federation sent a letter to MLB saying it would revoke its sanction of the tournament if Cuba can't play. In that event, the tournament would be in serious jeopardy because all of the other participants would be under threat to bow out without IBAF sanction. The IBAF operates under the Olympic charter, which states that countries can't be barred from international sports events for political reasons.

In the event that Cuba can't play and the IBAF backs off of its threat, Nicaragua would replace the Cubans as the 16th team.

DuPuy didn't want to elaborate on other possible alternatives on Wednesday.

"We are not discussing alternatives," he said, "because we are hopeful and confident that we're going to get approval."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.