MLB Hits Home Run With Cuba Exhibition

By Matthew Michaels

Jose Abreu is one of many Cuban stars in the MLB. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Jose Abreu is one of many Cuban stars in the MLB. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

If the entire Obama family is at an event, it is obviously a momentous occasion. Thus, the baseball game that the First Family attended on March 22 was more than a mere exhibition game between a national team and a MLB club fine-tuning before opening day.

For the first time since 1999, a Major League club played ball on Cuban soil, a sign of warming relations between America and Cuba 55 years after the former cut diplomatic ties with the latter. The Cuban National team lost 4-1 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Estadio Latinoamerica, but the significance of the game could not be held in a box score.

At the game in Havana, President Obama sat beside Cuban President Raul Castro, making Obama the first sitting American leader to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. In the 88 years since, Cuba has gone through massive transformations, rejected capitalism and furthered itself from an American identity. Through all of the change the island nation has seen, baseball has always been a constant, a source of pride and spirit.

In the spring of 1947, Jackie Robinson was preparing to make his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and break MLB’s color barrier. Instead of playing Spring Training in the team’s usual location of Jim Crow-era Daytona Beach, Florida, the Dodgers spent the pre-season in Havana to protect Robinson from racial taunts and threats. Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson, traveled with the president to Cuba to return to the same ballpark in which she watched her husband play 69 years earlier. In a time of need, Cuba embraced Robinson and other black American baseball players. Similarly, it is now time for the United States to use baseball as diplomacy and help Cuba as the two countries improve relations.

Baseball is truly an international game and as Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested at the exhibition game, it is MLB’s responsibility to strengthen and develop the game across the world. Manfred sees international expansion of the MLB in the future and mentioned Cuba as a possibility. Considering the cold shoulder these two nations shared as recently as last year, it seems incredulous to think that a major American sports league could come to Cuba, but so is the power of baseball.

Cubans currently make up a not-so-insignificant portion of all MLB players. The league has a stake in diplomatic relations that could make it easier and safer for young players from Cuba to come to America, eliminating the current archaic and unethical method of defecting.  Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman are some examples of extremely popular Cuban major leaguers. The MLB would like to continue to make strides for a more convenient relationship. With the love Cubans have for baseball, the sport could also be a driving factor in political discussions.

Eduardo Perez, former player and son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, was one of the analysts for the game on ESPN. He mentioned how his father came to America from Cuba in 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro took over politically. Perez also discussed how important baseball is for Cuba and the impact that it can have on Cuban-US relations.

Derek Jeter, Dave Winfield and Joe Torre were also at the game, but not merely as a symbolic gesture. They are major ambassadors for, and faces of baseball. Major League Baseball is dedicated to the improvement of the sport and will not stop until every child has access to a bat and glove. If that means they will lead the way to a lift on a half-century old embargo, even better.


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