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Cuba picks 5 MLB affiliated players for World Classic

HAVANA — (AP) — Cubans signed with Major League Baseball organizations and other foreign clubs will for the first time join domestic stars on the national team that will play in the World Baseball Classic, officials announced Wednesday evening.

The Cuban Baseball Federation long defended the idea of amateurism and punished those who left the island to seek their fortunes in professional baseball.

But that changed when a program on state television announced the roster of 30 players for Cuba's national team that will play in the international tournament that begins March 8 in Taiwan.

The team will include third baseman Yoán Moncada and center fielder Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox plus three players from Triple-A rosters: infielder Andy Ibáñez of the Detroit Tigers' Toldeo Mud Hens, right-hander Miguel Romero of the Oakland Athletics' Las Vegas Aviators and right-hander Ronald Bolaños of the Kansas City Royals' Omaha Storm Chasers.

Also on the team will be former New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, a 37-year-old two-time All-Star who last played in the major leagues in 2018.

Two Cubans who play in Japan were picked, outfielder Yurisbel Gracial of the Pacific League's Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and catcher Ariel Martínez of the Central League's Chunichi Dragons.

To arrange participation of the MLB players, Cuba had to get special permission from the United States because Washington maintains sanctions on Cuba. Under the agreement, those players are barred from coming to Cuba to work with the team.

Baseball is the national sport in Cuba but economic difficulties, the philosophy of restricting the movement of athletes and the temptations of professional contracts abroad has decimated the game on the island.

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