Cuba Opens its Doors to Major League Baseball
On March 22, 2016, Cuba opened its doors to Major League Baseball, if only for one day. The Tampa Bay Rays took on Cuba’s National team in a game won by the Rays by a final of 4-1. Playing in the city of Havana in front of a full stadium at Estadio Latinoamericano, the fans were loud and joyful. Matt Moore shined going six scoreless innings and James Loney went deep for the Rays and Rudy Reyes homered for Cuba. Among the dignitaries in attendance were former Yankee great Derek Jeter, Jackie Robinson’s wife, Rachel Robinson, Cuban Leader, Raul Castro, and U.S. President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and their two daughters. The Rays’ players all enjoyed the experience and said they will never forget it.
This was the first time since the spring of 1999 that the Major League has sent a team to Cuba. When teams went to Havana, players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig would go out for a night on the town due to Havana being like Las Vegas before Vegas existed. The U.S. and Cuba have a lot of history on the baseball field as teams used to have spring training in Cuba, the most notable being the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers the year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
Cuba is also now one of the top providers of Major League talent in the past seven to eight years. Some of the players to have come over from Cuba are current Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, White Sox’s first baseman Jose Abreu, and Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, Cuba may invite former Cuban nationals who are currently in the Major League to play for the Cuban team in either the World Baseball Classic or the Olympics. The players would also welcome the opportunity to play for their country in either event.
Not only are there Major Leaguers from Cuba, now there are many in the minors such as Yoan Moncada, but there are also players who have defected to the U.S. to play professional baseball, such as the brothers’ Gourriel who defected earlier this year. In Cuba the most popular sport is baseball, unlike other Latin American countries where soccer is the main sport. The Cuban people’s love of baseball is evident in the televised game. The “ola ola” chant and noise makers that you mostly hear at soccer matches overwhelmed the loudspeakers as their hometown National team took the field.
Cuba and the U.S. have had many hard times but in the past calendar year, the U.S. has lifted an embargo on Cuba, and is making it easier to travel to Cuba. Obama talked with ESPN during the game about how he hoped that the progress that has been made will continue and build on what the MLB has done in being a driving force in opening a line between the two nations. Hopefully our next President will continue the plan Obama has made in opening Cuba back up. Many in Cuba have told relatives of the players and announcers to tell Obama thank you because of the hope he has brought in changing America’s foreign policy with Cuba.