Cuban players permitted to boycott matches

Players and coaches throughout the US Major League boycotted games on Tuesday, joining a work stoppage by Miami's Cuban-American community in protest against Elian Gonzalez's removal from the home of his relatives following their much-publicised custody battle.

Jose Canseco, of Tampa Bay, was the most prominent player to sit out Tuesday night's action, joining six Florida Marlins, two San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets short-stop, Rey Ordonez. Several coaches joined them.

Mike Lowell, Florida's third baseman, the pitchers Alex Fernandez and Vladimir Nuñez - all of Cuban descent - also decided to sit out their games. Their Dominican team-mates, Antonio Alfonseca, Jesus Sanchez and Danny Bautista, joined them in a show of support.

"There aren't many more important things in my life than this game tonight, but this is one of them," John Boles, the Florida manager, said. "I'm not saying what's right and wrong. The organisation is not making a value judgment. The organisation is merely being sensitive to its employees. If I didn't have to be here, I wouldn't. I've got a lot of Cuban friends and I know how deeply they feel about this."

Dave Dombrowski, the Marlins' general manager, said any of the club's personnel, players and coaches wanting to support the protest would be excused with pay for the day.

After hearing of the Marlins' plans, Dusty Baker, the Giants' manager, contacted his right-hander, Livan Hernandez and Bobby Estalella, the team's catcher, advising the Cuban-Americans take the day off. They obliged. "You're talking about life and death situations that supersedes baseball," Baker said. "A lot of us don't know the situation unless you're from Miami. It's sad that politics have to go into baseball, but baseball is part of the world."

Rangers' first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who is Cuban, and the Reds' outfielder, Alex Ochoa, whose parents were born there, were among the Cuban-Americans who played. "The team needs me," Palmeiro said. "Unless I get a call from somebody really big, I'm playing. My responsibilities are to my family and my teammates. So, as of right now, I'm in the line-up."

Ochoa, who had only 28 at-bats this season, said: "It's an easier decision for an everyday player. I didn't want to let the team down."

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