On Sunday afternoon, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years – a truly monumental occasion that we hope serves to further establish the warming of diplomatic relations between the two countries. There’s no doubting that it’s been a whirlwind of a trip for the president so far – culture shock coupled with political balancing acts, a skit with Cuba’s most popular comedian, and more – but baseball can and will provide an enjoyable respite from often heavy talks and meetings.
How? Well, Obama’s fun-filled final-day schedule includes a trip to Estadio Latinoamericano to watch the Tampa Bay Rays as they take on the Cuban national team in a historic exhibition match.
Security will be tight at Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano, which opened in 1946 and currently finds itself in ill repair. But no matter; when it comes to sporting events, the president is in a world of his own. Don’t be surprised if he has a couple of cervezas, not the slightest bit wary of the millions of ESPN cameras roaming around the facility.
The last time a contest of this nature took place was way back in 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles edged the Serie Nacional squad by a score of 3-2. But almost two decades have passed since then, and an overwhelming majority of Cuba’s top ballplayers have fled the island for brighter futures abroad. So, pride will be an even bigger factor this time around if the hosts can find a way to compete. According to Cuban baseball officials who spoke with The Washington Post, this visit could be the push needed to make a deal that would allow Cuban players to come to the United States legally to play in the big leagues.
“This is extremely important to the future of Cuban baseball, to the relationship between our two countries,” said Heriberto Suárez, Cuba’s commissioner of baseball, to WaPo.
It’s also somewhat unfortunate that the Miami Marlins weren’t able to make the trip instead of the Rays. Can you imagine the reception that crowd-pleasers José Fernández and Adeiny Hechavarria would have received from the local fans?
No matter. What’s important is the classic match up between two countries that love beisbol. Salud Mr. Obama and enjoy the game.