Cuban players join Elian protest

Four Florida Marlins players, including starting third baseman Mike Lowell, plan to miss tonight's game against San Francisco to honour a call by Cuban-Americans for a work stoppage over the Elian Gonzalez case.

Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski said the team will respect the decision of any of its employees to support the protest. He said the club's front-office workers, players and coaches would be excused with pay for the day.

"I agree with it 100 percent," Marlins manager John Boles said. "The skids were greased when I recommended them to do it. There are more important things in the world than our game with the San Francisco Giants. Not a lot, but this is one of them."

Lowell, whose parents are Cuban exiles, will miss the home game along with pitcher Alex Fernandez, Vladimir Nunez and Michael Tejera, who's on the disabled list.

Third base coach Fredi Gonzalez, infield coach Tony Taylor and bullpen Luis Perez also plan to be absent, as does Cuban-American Hall of Famer Tony Perez, an assistant to Dombrowski.

Cuban-Americans in the Miami area are protesting how the 6-year-old Gonzalez was taken from his great-uncle's home during the weekend. The Marlins will close their downtown Marlins en Miami Store for the day.

Lowell, born in Puerto Rico, is married to a Cuban woman.

"It really hits home," Lowell said. "It's a sensitive issue and I have to be responsible. It's a little more important than one baseball game. Thank god, it's not the seventh game of the World Series."

Fernandez started on Monday night against Philadelphia and was the winning pitcher.

"I wouldn't have pitched (tomorrow)," he said. "I'm making it a point as a Cuban-American, and I'm proud to say that. You won't be seeing me here tomorrow."

Said Dombrowski: "Anyone who's passionate about the situation, we will respect their wishes."

"We have also alerted the Giants of the situation because they'll be flying into this. They also have Livan (Hernandez) and we wanted to make them aware."

Nunez will start on Wednesday night against former Marlins hero Hernandez. Both pitchers were born in Cuba.

In March 1999, Marlins owner John Henry joined a protest outside Baltimore's spring training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after the Orioles announced their intention to play an exhibition game against a Cuban team in Havana.

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