MLB applies for new permit for Cuba

MIAMI -- Cuban baseball players who live in exile in the United States formed an association on Thursday with the aim of participating in professional tournaments, including the World Baseball Classic, in which 16 countries will take part in March 2006.

However, the commissioner's office of Major League Baseball, in agreement with the Baseball International Federation and the MLB Players' Association, said that they will not allow any independent teams to play in the World Classic.

The United States Treasury Department denied Cuba's national team a permit to compete.

Former pitchers René Arocha and Osvaldo Fernandez headed a group of Cuban players that held a meeting with several U.S. Representatives to present the idea of an association which will represent them internationally.

Although they were not present in the meeting, pitchers
Livan Hernandez and Orlando Hernandez, who play for the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks respectively, support the idea of creating such an association.

"Cuban baseball players are only asking to have the same rights as other major leaguers, and to be able to participate in the World Classic and other such events," said Cuban-American congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).

"It would be totally unacceptable and an act of discrimination if these Cuban players do not have the chance of taking part in the World Classic," added Diaz-Balart.

Diaz-Balart was one of the congressmen who lobbied the Treasury Department for a resolution denying Cuba a permit to participate in the World Classic.

The Commissioner's office and the players' union plan to apply for a new permit, hoping that the administration of George W. Bush will approve. Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said a new application was
submitted Thursday.

"Cuban baseball players have put together a good idea by proposing to create this association, but they will not be able to participate in this year's World Classic with such a team," said Lou Melendez, vice president of Major League Baseball.

"The tournament is sanctioned by the International Federation, of which Cuba is a member. The International Federation will not approve of any unofficial team," added Melendez.

Melendez said that the World Baseball Classic organizers still hope to obtain the permit that will allow Cuba to participate, but added that if that does not happen, another country will take Cuba's place. Colombia and Nicaragua are the main candidates.

"MLB is willing to violate its own rules to support a terrorist government like Cuba's, who made professional baseball disappear more than 40 years ago. The World Classic is a tournament for professional teams," said Diaz-Balart.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.