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Face-to-face meeting with Cuba

Organizers of the 2011 World Baseball Challenge are preparing for an eight-team tournament, and one of those clubs could be international powerhouse Cuba. From Nov.

Organizers of the 2011 World Baseball Challenge are preparing for an eight-team tournament, and one of those clubs could be international powerhouse Cuba.

From Nov. 23-27, a five-person WBC contingent will be in Cuba for meetings with the Cuban Baseball Federation. Prince George residents making the trip will be WBC co-chair and marketing director Shawn Rice, co-chair Jim Swanson, international protocols and tourism director Virginia Sprangers and transportation director Paul Clermont. They will be joined in Cuba by Andre Lachance, manager of baseball operations for Baseball Canada.

"First and foremost, (we will discuss) their participation for 2011 and what it will take to get them here," Rice said.

The 2011 WBC is scheduled for July 8-19 at Prince George Citizen Field.

In the lead-up to the 2009 WBC in Prince George, Cuba committed to sending a team. But, player defections from the Cuban entry competing at the 2008 world junior championship in Edmonton caused the cancelation of that plan.

On behalf of the 2011 WBC committee, Lachance has already been in contact with the Cuban Baseball Federation. Rice said Cuba's response to date has been encouraging.

"We had them signed up to come here in 2009 and we all know what happened there," Rice said. "A lot of good things have happened with Baseball Canada and Cuba since then and having Andre with us will be nothing but positive for us. (The tournament) also has support from international baseball, which bodes well for us."

If Cuba does accept the invitation to the 2011 WBC, Rice said the spinoff effect would be significant.

"It would take our tournament to a whole new level," he said. "In my opinion, it would be one of the better baseball tournaments that you'll see out there. The best baseball countries in the world will be wanting to be a part of this event. We've already got an indication of that."

So far, six countries have said they'll attend the 2011 WBC. The tournament committee, however, will not release that information until a later date.

"We saw what happened in 2009 when we had (teams) identified and then teams backed out, and that caused a bit of controversy," Rice said. "We want to make sure that things are solid there before we start getting everybody excited over the quality of teams that we have coming."

Besides Cuba, teams that committed to the 2009 WBC and ended up being no-shows were Croatia, Chinese Taipei and the Beijing Tigers. Croatia and Chinese Taipei backed out because of the global economic meltdown and the Tigers were kept at home by their government because of the H1N1 flu outbreak, with travel visas denied.

Teams that did attend were the USA, Germany, Canada, the Bahamas, Team B.C. and the host Westcana Electric Axemen. In the final, the US beat Germany 8-1.

Starting on Friday, fans who purchased tickets for the 2009 WBC can buy their seats for the next edition. General ticket sales will commence on Nov. 12 through the CN Centre Ticketmaster.

Prices for tournament passes are $199 (reserved grandstand seats) and $149 (general admission). An eight-team field would translate into 30 games, nine more than in 2009.

--- The local group going to Cuba in November is planning to take along baseball gear and baseball cards to give to Cuban baseball officials and children. Clermont will be leading a campaign to gather baseballs, gloves, bats, helmets and other equipment, as well as the baseball cards.

Those who would like to make a donation to the cause can take their goods to Custom Edge Sports, located at 1755 South Ogilvie St.