Cuba wants to host WBC, play more often

SAN JUAN -- Cuba hopes to host some portion of future World Baseball Classic editions, an idea that sits fine with the Major League Baseball, but also an idea that could face many obstacles.

"Hosting games in the next event is the maximum ambition that any country that loves baseball could have," said Higinio Velez, manager of Cuba's national team.

"We want to be a part of the tournament, and I think Cuba would be an ideal place because it already has experience organizing baseball events," added Velez.

Velez said the World Baseball Classic has been such a successful tournament that it should be held every two years instead of every four.

Organizers do not object to Cuban aspirations, although the second World Baseball Classic isn't scheduled until 2009.

"I think Cuba could host games in the next edition, although not the games in the last rounds, but I don't see why it couldn't host the first round games," said Gene Orza, executive vice president of the Major League Players Association.

"We still don't know what method will be used to choose the countries that will take part in the tournament nor the host countries for 2009, but I think Cuba could put games together," he said.

Sixteen countries were invited to the first edition of the World Baseball Classic, but apparently only the best eight countries of the 2006 edition will be seeded for the 2009 edition, while the others would have to get in by qualifying in regional eliminations.

To get Cuban participation at this World Baseball Classic, major league officials, the players' association and the International Baseball Federation went to battle with the United States Treasury Department.

The U.S. government initially prohibited Cuba from playing in Puerto Rico, arguing that this would violate the sanctions that it has had for 40 years against the communist island.

Cuba had to forgo financial gain from the tourney to end the Treasury Department's prohibition.

Citizens and American enterprises are allowed to travel to Fidel Castro's island, but they aren't allowed to invest there. Currently, there are no direct commercial flights between Cuba and United States.

"We're sport ambassadors, and we're not involved in politics," said Velez.

Orza dismissed any thought of a biennial World Baseball Classic due to costs and the logistics.

Orza told ESPNdeprtes.com that the first World Baseball Classic has cost the organizers about $50 million.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.