For almost 70 years, Fidel Castro sought to protect Cuban béisbol from professional baseball in the United States. Castro, a former pitcher at the University of Havana, didn’t want individual franchises on the island to operate as for-profit corporations, like they do in Major League Baseball. Instead, he wanted to produce strong Cuban national teams that would be successful in international competitions.
Well, it looks like the tide has turned: an MLB pre-season game could be played in Cuba as early as next year.
Since last December, when President Obama announced that he was restoring the U.S.’ diplomatic relations with Cuba, MLB boss Rob Manfred has floated the possibility of playing a 2016 pre-season game in Cuba. This Tuesday at the general managers’ meeting, he confirmed that the plan is running.
The last time an MLB team set foot on the island was in 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles played two games of pelota against the Cuban national team. Before that, the last time the league graced Cuba was all the way back in March 1959, before the revolution.
“Obviously, the federal government has some significant influence on whether that’s going to take place, and there are issues that need to be solved before that can happen,” added the commissioner. One of the issues is figuring out which teams have enough flexibility to take the short flight. Geographically, Cuba is not far from the Florida towns most MLB organizations call home during winter and spring. That short distance has proven incredibly long for some Cubans, including many peloteros and their families.
Early next year, we’ll be hearing more shouts of “play ball” than “patria o muerte.” All in all, this move speaks to the power that the game has to heal political relations in the global sphere.