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Detroit Tigers: Could They Play a Game in Cuba

kris10bentley
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For decades, baseball fans have known that Cuba loves baseball. Some of the best players in the MLB are Cuban, including the Detroit Tigers own Jose Iglesias and his former teammates Brayan Pena and Yoenis Cespedes. Over the years, players have faced dangerous situations defecting from Cuba into countries like Mexico, like Yasiel Puig, or the Dominican Republic, like Jose Abreu, before making their way into the United States. 

May 27, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Yoenis Cespedes (52), first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) ad second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) high five the dugout after Cespedes

Now that the relationship between the United States and Cuba has softened slightly and players no longer have to fear the wrath of Fidel Castro, Commissioner Rob Manfred believes that at least one team could go to Cuba for an exhibition game during spring training. Right now, the teams in top contention for this honor include the Baltimore Orioles, New Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Mets. The Orioles were the last team to play in Cuba when they traveled there in 1999.

Being able to play international baseball in Cuba would be a huge boost for the MLB. Cuban players tend to dominate in their positions and being able to get more players from the Caribbean nation would only make baseball more interesting to watch. Imagine if every team had a Jose Iglesias or Alexei Ramirez at shortstop or an Aroldis Chapman closing games. The pace of the game, the style of the game, and the intensity of the game would change for the better.

If Cuba and US relations continue as they are, there could come a day when a professional baseball player could be seriously injured in the attempt to leave the country. Yasiel Puig’s story is one that was filled with danger, conspiracy, and lawsuits. In order to get Puig into Los Angeles, he had to be smuggled from the country. This was done through drug dealers and other unsavory fellows. In Puig’s first year with the Dodgers, much of his salary went to paying off the men who transferred him from country to country. His teammates worried each day if he would actually show up to the field or go missing on his way there. Puig’s story is clearly told in Molly Knight’s book, The Best Team Money can Buy.  

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  • Since the Detroit Tigers play in Florida during Spring Break, they would not have to travel far to play a Cuban team. The team’s ties to Latin American players would make a Cuba vs. Detroit game full of big hits, stolen bases, flying catches, and fast pitching. Seeing the Tigers play in Cuba would be a major event that the fans and players would never forget. Dave Dombrowski has commented that his Red Sox could play 90 miles south of Key West, Florida; hopefully, Al Avila – the first Cuban-born MLB general manager – commits his team, too.

    Currently, the MLB has to work with the federal government to make the game a safe reality. Hopefully, one game in Cuba will lead to better things, like scouts being about to actively pursue players and the MLB being able to develop a franchise in the island nation.

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