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March 15, 2006

Yulieski Gourriel

Vicyohandri Odelin

Ariel Pestano

Omari Romero

Higinio Velez


THE MODERATOR: For the Cuban team we have the manager Higinio Velez and Yulieski Gourriel, Ariel Pestano, Vicyohandri Odelin and Omari Romero.
Before we open the floor for questions from the media, Manager, we would like your impression of the game.
HIGINIO VELEZ: First of all, let me say that this was like an omen. I said it two or three days ago. I said this was only the very beginning of the classic, it was not over. People started saying that Cuba might have been over, that we may be out when we had the knockout. I said be patient, just wait. Now we've shown what Cuba can do. Now we've seen the courage of the players when they went out into the field.
Please allow me to congratulate the Puerto Rican team. That was great baseball played here tonight. The fans must be very happy because they had a great show. It was a wonderful performance, it was a wonderful play, and all I can say is that when you have a match like we had tonight, baseball wins and we all win.
ARIEL PESTANO: My impression of the game is that a great effort was made by the Puerto Rican team here tonight. You all watched the game; you saw what happened in the field. It was a hot game. Both of the teams went out in order to win. They did their best. We won, simply separated ourselves. We took off, had a slight advantage, and it was great baseball what you saw here tonight.
The fans must be very pleased up in the stands because what they saw tonight was their team, the Puerto Rican team, do their best. They went out into the field to do their best. It was wonderful the way they hit, the way they played.
I just want to say that we were lucky because we won, but we have to acknowledge the great effort of both teams.
Q. This is for Yulieski and for Manager Velez. A lot of people didn't know a lot about the Cubans coming into this tournament. What do you think you guys proved by winning here tonight and getting to the semi-finals?
HIGINIO VELEZ: I will repeat, I said it a few days ago, the Cuban team simply had to come and show the quality, the top level of Cuban baseball. Being here with seven teams, being an Olympic champion, being a world champion, that is not something that you win by chance; you have to play and you have to earn it.
For you, some of the media people that follow baseball, for you, it might have been a surprise. But for us, this is customary. This is the way we play baseball in Cuba.
Q. For Manager Velez, Manager Manny Acta said they were looking forward, the next game was to be played against you. What is your plan, Manager Velez, and who will be your starting pitcher in that game against Manny's team?
HIGINIO VELEZ: Well, we don't know. So far we don't know who we're playing against. First of all, we have to find out who the opponent will be, then we have to study that other team, and then we can decide who the starting pitcher will be.
So far I haven't decided who the starting pitcher will be. Now that we know we're playing against the Dominican Republic, we have already played against them, they defeated us. Now I have to think of a new strategy. We have to follow the special pitching regulations that we have for this classic. We have to respect the regulations. I need to give my guys a rest, and then we'll think of who the starting pitcher will be.
Q. This is for all the players. Which of the U.S. players are you most anxious to watch perform, the U.S. Major League players?
YULIESKI GOURRIEL: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey, Jr. All you have to do is follow their background, their career, what they've done all these years, the results that they've obtained, and the way I see it, those are the best players that they have on the U.S. team.
ARIEL PESTANO: In fact, I would have said Ivan Rodriguez, but I've already had the opportunity to play with him, to be with him and to have my picture taken with him. He's a wonderful player and a great catcher, and he is very simple, very down to earth so I can speak very highly of him.
As to who the players I'd like to see, well, I'd like to see all of them because of the quality, because of their career, because of what they've done for baseball and in baseball. But I can say that I'm very proud to have been part of this Classic. Cuba has played wonderful baseball and we have proven to the world that we can live up to the level of a classic such as this one?
HIGINIO VELEZ: If you allow me, I'd like to answer the question myself. The question should be not which one of the U.S. players we'd like to see. The question should be which one we'd like to play against, and we would like to play against the U.S. players. And in Cuba we follow the major leagues. The players here in their rooms watch TV, they've watched the games every single day. We follow what they do, we know how they play, so we'd like to face them; not only see them.
Q. For both Yulieski and Ariel, can you talk about the play at the plate, the execution that went into that, and how big a swing that was in the game?
ARIEL PESTANO: I would say that that was the most important play in the game. It was a key play in the game throughout the whole game. It was the most important -- I wouldn't call it a swing, it was simply the move that led us to tie the game, and when the infielders went out into the field they played very well, the infielders, they threw the ball home, and it was given to Ivan, and it seems that it was the definitive play.
YULIESKI GOURRIEL: Well, that was a very difficult play. For one or two innings I had to realize that it was raining, that the grass was wet, and that when you have synthetic turf wet it is difficult to catch a ball and grasp it very well. I realized that the ball was wet, it was very difficult to hold on to, so I thought for two seconds the ball is wet, I have to hold on to it and that's what I did. I threw it home and I had to do it in full blast, not just an easy throw, a weak throw, but I had to do it full blast, and it worked out well.
Q. I'd like to hear your views on the two plays that led to controversy, and I realize that later on you can see the replay, you can watch the video and see what happened. But I'd like to hear your views. Did you think for a moment that maybe the umpires were going against you, that the strategy was to steal the game away from Cuba? Have you seen the videos? Have you watched the videos and analyzed the videos?
HIGINIO VELEZ: No, I believe in the honesty of the umpires. I think that they always do what they do best, and it happens in baseball. You can have a protest, you can have ejection, you can have people kicked out of the field, but that always happens. This is not the first time that you've seen this happen. We all make mistakes, the players, the managers, the umpires, but no, we respect the views of the umpires. It seems to me that these are the best selected for this opportunity, for the Classic, and by the way, I'd like to congratulate the umpires for the job they did.
Q. For each one of the players, if each one of you can give us your opinion as to the pressure that was exerted by Puerto Rico so that Cuba could be part of this classic. What can you say about that? Puerto Rico is not moving onto the next round, they're not going onto to the next round and you are. Could you please tell us how you feel?
OMARI ROMERO: I'd like to say this is a historic moment, the fact that the Puerto Rican team and a lot of people thought in order for us to become part of this classic. The people on the Puerto Rican team must feel very proud. They made us feel welcome and fought to the end so Cuba could be part of this classic. They played good baseball in the two rounds, and now Cuba leaves this second round being very happy with its performance, and all I can say is that we go on to the next round, we go on to San Diego, and we will play as one team, Puerto Rico and Cuba together in the name and on behalf of the two. We will do that in San Diego, play like the two being together.
We had a great time, and it seems to me that the Puerto Rican team deserves a big round of applause.
ARIEL PESTANO: As my colleague and my teammate Romero was saying, it is a great pleasure to have been here in Puerto Rico, and we're very, very grateful Puerto Rico did everything possible in order to have Cuba participate in this classic. It was a wonderful opportunity for us because we were able to show Cuban baseball, what Cuba is able to do in playing baseball. We're very grateful for the support given by the people of Puerto Rico, spiritual support and baseball, all types of support. We felt very welcome here in Puerto Rico, and everybody has behaved well with us. They've been very attentive and they've followed closely what Cuba did, with the exception of the American-Cuban Association has been somewhere around here, but that is not of interest to us. We're interested in playing good ball. Cuba and Puerto Ricans are both Latins, we are of the same blood and we have to thank Puerto Rico for having made us feel very welcome in Puerto Rico.
YULIESKI GOURRIEL: Well, I wish to reiterate what my colleagues have said. For us it has been a matter of great pressure and satisfaction, the Puerto Rican support in helping us participate in this classic, the Cuban people, not only the Cuban team but the Cuban people are very grateful for everything that was done in order to have Cuba participate in this classic. The support that we got from the people from Puerto Rico, everything that they did, even when we had some people up in the stands doing things that had nothing to do with baseball, they were booed by the Puerto Rican people, they were kicked out, and we felt a lot of support from Puerto Rico. That is a matter of great joy and a matter of great pride for all of us. It was a wonderful gesture by the Puerto Rican people and that makes us feel very happy and very proud.
VICYOHANDRI ODELIN: I simply wish to reiterate what my colleagues have said. It is a matter of great pride for us to have been here, to have received Puerto Rican support and have Cuba be part of this classic. It is not mere chance being world champions, Olympic champions. Cuba deserved to be here. All the discussion and debate; Cuba, yes; Cuba, no. Cuba is finally here and I would like to thank all those who supported us in being here.
HIGINIO VELEZ: We'd like to thank -- if you'll allow me to say, this is a final statement. We had like to thank the people of Puerto Rico and the managers and the leaders, all those having something to do with Cuba participating in this classic. We feel like the people of Puerto Rico. A lot of people say that Puerto Rico and Cuba are like the two wings of the Americas. I'd like to say that we have felt at home, we have felt like being part of the family, waking up in the morning when we tend to forget that we are in Puerto Rico and we feel nostalgic about Cuba. We wake up in the morning, we greet the people of Puerto Rico. The gardener, the people working in the kitchen, the police. Everybody has made us feel at home, and we have not forgotten Cuba, precisely because of that possibility that we have had of interacting with the Puerto Rican people.
Please allow me to share a secret that I've kept with me and that I wanted to share with you this evening. I have Puerto Rican blood with me. My paternal grandfather was from Puerto Rico. He left Puerto Rico when he was 25 years old, so I feel Puerto Rican, I have Puerto Rican blood in me, and I'm very proud of it.

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