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Report: Castro says Cuba to play in World Classic

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Cuban president Fidel Castro clearly confirmed in comments published Friday that his country will play in next year's inaugural World Baseball Classic.

"We will participate and demonstrate that we know what to do in
baseball," Castro told Panamanian reporters visiting Havana this
week in comments published Friday in La Prensa.

During a televised speech in Havana last week, Castro gave some
the impression that he was confirming Cuba's participation in the
event, which is scheduled for March 3-20, but his comments were
unclear and he never directly referred to the World Baseball
Classic by name.

In Cuba, sports and other government officials have refused to
comment on whether Cuba would go to the 16-team tournament or to
say anything about Castro's comments during last week's speech.

"We will play with whoever we have to do it," Castro said in
the comments published in Panama.

Cuba is slated to be in Group C with the Netherlands, Panama and
Puerto Rico, with games to be played at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn
Stadium.

During last week's five-hour appearance on state television,
Castro made an offhanded remark about "those who cannot resist the
millions of the major leagues" and allowed that baseball "is the
sport in which we have been beaten the most" when it comes to
defections.

Still, the 79-year-old leader insisted that Cuba's baseball
program had always survived the losses, saying "when one leaves,
another 10 better players emerge."

Among those who have left the island for the major leagues are
Livan and Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras.

At one point during last week's address, Castro said "count on
us at the party," but he never made a direct reference to the
World Baseball Classic, which is being organized by Major League
Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.