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Rodriguez to play for USA in classic

By Mike Fitzpatrick THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK – Alex Rodriguez finally chose a side: He wants to wear stars and stripes.

His allegiance torn between the Dominican Republic and United States, A-Rod made up his mind at last Tuesday night and decided he will participate in the World Baseball Classic as a member of the U.S. team.

“In recent weeks, following dialogue with caring friends and players, both Dominican and American, I reached the conclusion that if I played in the Classic, I would play for the United States and honor my American citizenship,” Rodriguez said in a statement on his Web site.

“I appreciate the support and understanding of my fellow Dominican players and friends who aided me in making this decision. The World Baseball Classic offers baseball and its fans an exciting new forum and I look forward, if selected, to representing the United States in what will be baseball’s greatest international competition.”

Rodriguez vacillated until the very end. After speaking with the New York Yankees third baseman earlier Tuesday, players’ association chief operating officer Gene Orza thought the two-time MVP was leaning toward not playing at all.

Later in the day, Rodriguez made his decision to participate, according to agent Scott Boras.

“The guy is one of the best players on the planet. He’s finally made up his mind on a very difficult decision. If he wants to play for the U.S., we’re definitely glad to have him,” U.S. general manager Bob Watson said.

Eric Chavez, Oakland’s Gold Glove third baseman, also was among 10 players added to the U.S. roster Tuesday along with pitchers Ben Sheets, Dan Haren, Brett Myers and Gary Majewski; and outfielders Luis Gonzalez, Jeff Francoeur, Matt Holliday and Randy Winn. Forty-two players were announced Monday.

While A-Rod made his choice, tournament organizers remained unsure whether the Bush administration will allow Cuba to participate.

The U.S. Treasury Department last month denied baseball’s application for Cuba to play in the United States. A permit is needed because of laws governing certain transactions with Fidel Castro’s communist country, which generally isn’t allowed to receive U.S. currency.

“We aren’t afraid of anything,” Castro said in a speech late Tuesday. “It’s very difficult to compete against us in any area. … Not even in baseball do they want to compete with Cuba.”

After Cuba promised to donate any money to victims of Hurricane Katrina, baseball reapplied for a permit and was still awaiting a decision on that second application.

“We are very hopeful that … Cuba will be allowed to participate on the terms that have been negotiated,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer. “It is critical that Cuba participates. Cuba is an important international program, the defending Olympic champion, and ought to be in the World Baseball Classic.”

Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said no decision had been made.

Puerto Rico has threatened to pull out as a host for the event if Cuba isn’t allowed to play. And baseball’s world governing body, the International Baseball Federation, says it would withdraw its sanction of the tournament.

Even home run king Hank Aaron thinks that would be a shame.

“I hope that these kids are given an opportunity to play, because whatever happened before, they had nothing to do with it,” Aaron said in Washington at an event to promote the World Baseball Classic and celebrate 130 years of Japan-U.S. baseball history. “I just hope they have an opportunity to compete. They really deserve to. They have some great ballplayers in Cuba.”

Rodriguez, perhaps baseball’s best all-around player, is eligible to play for the U.S. team and the Dominican Republic because he was raised in the United States but his parents are Dominican.

He said last month that he intended to play for the Dominican team, then said he wouldn’t play at all because he didn’t want to offend either country.

“He spoke to the commissioner and the Major League Baseball Players Association last week and they talked about the benefits of his participation in advancing baseball both nationally and internationally,” Boras said Tuesday night.

A-Rod was included on the Dominican Republic’s preliminary roster.

“I feel a little disappointed with his announcement,” Dominican general manager Stan Javier said yesterday. “We never counted on Alex. We have Adrian Beltre and Aramis Ramirez at third base. We do not need more.”

Provisional rosters of up to 60 players for each country were due at midnight EST on Tuesday and were to be announced yesterday. The final 30-man rosters for the 16-nation tournament will be chosen from those 60-player pools shortly before the start of the event, scheduled for March 3-20.

Any player not on a provisional roster cannot participate. A player can be on multiple 60-man rosters but only one 30-man roster, union spokesman Greg Bouris said.

As expected, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. were the biggest names among the 42 players picked by the U.S. team.

Rodriguez joins Yankees teammates Jeter and Johnny Damon on the preliminary American roster.

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