Chavez wants players cleared for WBC

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez urged major league baseball teams on Thursday to allow Venezuelan players to represent their country in next month's World Baseball Classic.

"They take away the athlete's right and duty ... to represent Venezuela," said Chavez, speaking during a ceremony to honor Venezuela's under-20 soccer team. "It's constructive criticism of professional sports."

Chavez said baseball should follow the example of professional soccer teams in Europe and the United States, which are forced under FIFA regulations to clear players when they want to join their national teams in international competitions.

Edwin Zerpa, president of the Venezuelan Baseball Federation, said Thursday that he was particularly concerned that the New York Mets might not clear ace Johan Santana to pitch.

"What's most worrisome is that they attempt to stop the pitchers, who are in excellent condition, from playing," Zerpa said. "Without good pitching, you cannot win in baseball."

Mets general manager Omar Minaya has said he is in favor of having players in the WBC.

Other big league stars on the Venezuela roster include: Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit outfielder Magglio Ordonez, and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu.