Little League to include Cuban youth players

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              Stephen D. Keener, Little League International president, left, holds still for photos as he gifts a jersey to Antonio Castro, son of Cuba's late leader Fidel Castro who represents Cuban baseball, during a ceremony in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Cuban baseball and Little League International are launching a relationship that will allow young Cuban players to participate in international Little League tournaments, following a MLB deal with the Cuban Baseball Federation allowing Cuban players to legally play professionally in the U.S. for the first time. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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HAVANA (AP) — Cuban baseball and Little League International said Wednesday that young Cuban players will soon be able to participate in international Little League tournaments.

The agreement follows a deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that will allow Cuban players to legally play professionally in the United States for the first time.

The two organizations said that Cuba’s programs for children between 4 and 12 will now be included in Little League’s international programs, including the Little League International Tournament. The Cubans will have a chance to qualify at the Caribbean Region Tournament in Curacao in July.

“It’s encouraging for the family, for the children, for the coaches … who with their work and effort will have a chance to represent Cuba in an event of this magnitude,” said Higinio Velez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation.

Little League International said it would work with Cuba’s baseball federation to provide support for things including tournament travel, field renovation and equipment such as shoes and uniforms.

“One of the most important things we’ve thought about … is the value of developing friendly relationships through children who play baseball,” said Little League President Stephen Keener, who traveled to Cuba to sign the agreement.

The deal comes at a time of high tension between Cuba and the Trump administration, which is increasing pressure on the island’s socialist government.