WBC is first step for Cuba

MARACAY, Venezuela -- Cuba's participation in the World Baseball Classic in March could open the door for the island to future Caribbean Series.

The commissioner of Caribbean baseball, Juan Francisco Puello Herrera of the Dominican Republic, told ESPNdeportes.com that Cuban authorities have shown interest in returning to the "Latin American World Series," and that a request to come back would be taken seriously.

"Now that Cuba has decided to play in an event where professionals are involved [the WBC], we see the possibility of their returning to the Caribbean Series," said Puello Herrera.

In the first era of Caribbean Series play (1949-1960), Cuba won seven of the 12 round-robin tournaments. Venezuela, Panama and Puerto Rico were the other participants.

But with the regime of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who outlawed professional sports in the country, Cuba withdrew from the event and the tournament was not played for nine years.

The Caribbean Confederation was able to put the Caribbean Series back together in 1970, with a new lineup of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Then, in 1971 Mexico was added to round out the four-team competition.

Puello Herrera said that if Cuba shows interest in playing in the Caribbean Series, the Confederation might have to include still another team, in order to maintain an even number of participants.

"We'd have to add one more besides Cuba. We'd either have to admit another country, or let the runner-up in the host country's local league play."

But it's not that simple. "The inclusion of Cuba in the Caribbean Series would also depend on the Treasury Department of the United States, since Puerto Rico is a member of the Caribbean Confederation and hosts the tournament every four years [in U.S. territory]," said Puello Herrera.

Cuba had to get the OK from the Treasury Department to play in the World Classic, which will take place March 3-20 in the United States, Japan and Puerto Rico. More than 200 major leaguers are expected to participate among the 16 national teams.

In the first round, Cuba will play in Puerto Rico as part of Group C, which will include Panama, Holland and the host team.