AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card That the Cuban baseball team had previously been here for a 1996 Atlanta Olympics and for a series in Baltimore apparently mattered not. That the embargo has ultimately proved effective as a parka in the North Pole, apparently has been lost on every administration since Eisenhower. Note to Washington: It’s been almost 50 years, and Cuba is still Communist. But we’re not supposed to feed the Cuban coffers – so stop all that online Havana cigar ordering before there’s a knock at your door – and U.S. Treasury Department at first rejected a waiver for the Cuban baseball team to participate in the inaugural WBC. This caused all sorts of interesting reactions, the primary one being: If powerhouse Cuba doesn’t come, then it’s really not a world championship. Puerto Rico, which is scheduled to host Cuba in a first-round pool series, threatened to pull out of the tournament if Castro’s kids couldn’t come. That they weren’t until Friday left the World Baseball Classic suffering from understandable angst and gave us yet again all the insight we can handle on the lovely political process. See, the Bush Administration was sticking to this embargo thing. The International Baseball Federation said it would not sanction the tournament without Cuba. Even Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, linked an American bid for the 2016 Olympics to a Cuban boycott. Then Cuba said it would donate any proceeds to the Katrina Hurricane relief, and belatedly – the tournament starts in just 41 days – it received a license to permit those dastardly Cubans entry. The Cubans are coming! The Cubans are coming! Cuban-born Preston Gomez, three times a manager in the major leagues and currently a special assistant to Angels GM Bill Stoneman, said it’s nothing but positive news. “I think it’s good for baseball,” Gomez said. “I don’t think politics should be involved. Eventually it could help between the U.S. and Cuba, and hopefully one day they open up and both sides to get together. “Sometimes, baseball can do more than any politician in the world.” Now that the Cubans are coming everybody can relax, aside strangely, perhaps Cuba. “We’re not afraid of anything,” Castro said. “It’s very difficult to compete against us in any area. Not even in baseball do they want to compete with Cuba.” Understand, they take their baseball very seriously on the island. They have a rich baseball tradition, and are extremely good at it. So good that in three of the four Olympics that have included baseball, the Cubans took home gold. So good that their best players can steal away on a row boat, show up in Florida and the next day become a millionaire in Yankee pinstripes. But if the haughty Cubans think they’re about to show up the world, particularly the U.S., and waltz through this tournament, then they’re about to be hit with the stiffest dose of reality since Hurricane Dennis. The Cubans open play in Pool C, which also includes the Netherlands, Panama and host Puerto Rico. The top two teams out of each of the four pools advance into the second round, and although Cuba is heavily favored to move on, it’s no lock. Puerto Rico – which can call on Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Pudge Rodriguez – figures to battle Cuba tough, and Panama – with a roster that could include Carlos Lee, Bruce Chen and Ramiro Mendoza – figures to be competitive. Almost half of the 400 players on the 16 rosters are players under contract to Major League teams, and none of them will represent Cuba. When the Cubans were flexing their muscles on the international scene, it was against teams lacking players from the majors. That all changes now. But Gomez said despite defections from previous Cuban national teams, and despite the upgrade in the level of competition at the WBC, it is best to take Cuba very seriously. “Whatever team they’re going to bring from Cuba – because most of those players are playing in a series there right now – is going to be in good shape,” Gomez said. “You read in the paper how good the team the U.S. is going to have and the Dominican, and they should be the favorites, but in a short series, anything can happen. “I guarantee you, Cuba will be in great physical condition and ready to play. In a short series, pitching is going to dominate. And Cuban teams always have good pitching.” It’s uncertain how well the U.S., Dominican, Puerto Rican and Venezuelan teams that rely on MLB players will be ready to play nine innings. They will report to the individual team camps, and then come together only four days before their first game in Phoenix. Conditioning could play a factor, but then so should the likes of Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens. At least all those questions get to be answered in earnest now. On Friday they put the world back in the World Baseball Classic. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. He can be reached at email@example.com. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! They have a genuine world baseball championship now. Everyone can stop their protests, cease the uproar, plan a different demonstration. The Cubans are coming! The Cubans are coming!