MLB optimistic Cuba will be allowed into tourney

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Baseball officials are cautiously
expecting good news soon from the Bush administration that would
clear the way for Cuba to participate in the first World Baseball

"We remain guardedly optimistic and are looking forward to
receiving a positive response to our reapplication, hopefully
within a matter of days," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief
operating officer.

DuPuy spoke Wednesday following a meeting of the owners'
executive council. Several ownership committees met during the day,
with the full quarterly owners meeting set for Thursday at a north
Scottsdale resort.

DuPuy also gave the council a report on his troubled efforts to
get the Washington City Council to approve a lease agreement with
baseball for a new stadium for the Nationals. Major League
Baseball, which owns the team and moved it from Montreal, says it
will not sell the franchise until it has a lease in place.

Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department denied baseball's
application for Cuba to play in the United States. A permit is
necessary because of laws governing financial transactions with
Fidel Castro's communist country. Baseball filed a new application
that said any money earned by Cuba in the tournament would be given
to charity.

Castro has said the money would be donated to U.S. victims of
Hurricane Katrina. The Cuban roster was not made public with those
of the rest of the competing nations on Thursday, but DuPuy said
there was no talk of an alternate plan that would revamp the
tournament format without Cuba.

"We are not discussing alternatives because we are hopeful and
confident we are going to get approval," DuPuy said.

The International Baseball Federation has said it would revoke
its sanction of the event if Cuba is not allowed to compete.

Cuba's first-round games would be played in Puerto Rico, a U.S.
protectorate. The tournament's semifinals and finals are scheduled
to be played in San Diego.

The sale of the Nationals, meanwhile, remained stalled while the
City Council decides when or whether to vote on a reworked lease

DuPuy said MLB hopes a vote can avoid deciding the issue in
binding arbitration. He said the arbitration process has begun with
a mediator, but would not comment further.

Council Chair Linda Cropp has suggested a possible vote on a
reworked proposal for a lease by Feb. 7.

"We wanted a decision by Dec. 31, which was a contractual
obligation," DuPuy said, "so the sooner they bring it to a vote
the better. Even if we're in the middle of an arbitration, if we
get a positive vote and we could proceed with it, that would
obviate the need for arbitration."

Meanwhile, he said talks with Mayor Anthony Williams and members
of the council were continuing.

"We want to stay in Washington. We're very pleased with the
reception that people in Washington gave to the team," DuPuy said.
"We're continuing to work with the mayor, we're continuing to work
with the council and we're hopeful that we can get it done."

On Thursday morning, the owners will vote on the sale of
controlling ownership of the Cincinnati Reds by financier Carl
Lindner to a group headed by Robert Castellini, chairman of a
family-owned Cincinnati produce company that's been in business for
a century.

The new ownership group includes William and James Williams, who
were part of the ownership group in the franchise's "Big Red
Machine" days of the 1970s.