Cuba thriving with team-first attitude

Cuba thriving with team-first attitude

SAN DIEGO -- When Cuba manager Higinio Velez talks about his team, he often mentions how his club is "made up of men and not of names."

In Spanish, it's "hecho de hombres, y no de nombres."

In other words, he says you didn't know his team the first time it participated in the World Baseball Classic three years ago and you still don't know it this time around. However, the straight-shooting manager said he is familiar with his opponents, especially those from Latin America.

"I don't think we learned a lot," Velez said. "The rest learned a lot about Cuba. ... We said that these were all people that we admired and we respected. I would say that 99 percent of all players, if not 100 percent of these are humble people, these are simple families, and that's their background. We know their situation, and we know their background."

Cuba will face Japan at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon at PETCO Park in a rematch of the 2006 World Baseball Classic championship game, a contest Japan won, 10-6. Boston right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka will start for Japan opposite Cuban lefty Ardolis Chapman.

"This is not revenge," Velez said. "It's no secret for anybody that Japan has a wonderful team, a team that is an outstanding one, and has always played really great games. So, I think that tomorrow we will have a really great match."

Cuba went 3-0 in Pool B play in Mexico City and has a long history of success in international competition. The country won Olympic gold medals in baseball in 1992, 1996 and 2004. It won silver medals in 2000 and 2008.

Since 1952, Cuba has played in 40 international finals and won 33 times.

"I don't think that you knew the Cuban ballplayers, and nobody really thought that they were at the level that they were," Velez said. "We have a great league in Cuba. We play all year long, and I'm telling you, be patient, wait for the Cubans, wait to see the Cubans. The ones that are in the big leagues are the same. Those players from Dominican Republicans, they're about the same quality that we have here in Cuba."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.