Cuban baseball official: Owners should free up players

HAVANA -- Cuba blamed the major leagues Friday for the sport being dropped from the 2012 Olympics.

Cuba has won three of the four gold medals since baseball was first played at the Olympics -- in 1992, 1996 and 2004. The United States won the gold in 2000, with Cuba getting the silver.

"Those who bear most of the blame are the owners of the professional leagues who refuse to free up their ballplayers to compete," Cuban Baseball Federation president Carlos Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

"It's a shame because this decision will disappoint millions of young people who practice and love this sport," Rodriguez added.

Bob DuPuy, the major leagues' chief operating officer, said the IOC's decision will "adversely affect millions of sports fans worldwide."

Softball was also dropped from the program for the London Games during a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Singapore. This was the first time the IOC eliminated any sports from the Summer Games in 69 years.

Rodriguez said Cuba would continue to make baseball a key part of its sports program because "it is the national sport, it is part of our culture."

Alexander Mayeta, the first baseman for Havana's Industriales team, called the decision to drop baseball "hard and unjust." He added that for a Cuban player, "the greatest pride is to be an Olympic champion."

"My dream has been to play in the Olympic finals," added Mayeta, who had 14 homers and hit .330 last season. "I'm going to train even harder, do everything possible to make sure Cuba gets to the 2008 Games. That gold medal is more important than ever. We
cannot lose it."