Baseball brings people together – even nations that have been arguing for 63 years. Yesterday’s game in Cuba made a difference in teams from the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees.
Other than Canada and Mexico, Cuba is the closest neighbor to the United States and the Cubans love baseball. Despite the 50-year embargo with Cuba, the island nation has unwillingly been one of the best sources of talent in the MLB. Unfortunately, most of the players from Cuba have to involve themselves in dangerous escape plans to leave Cuba and to enter the United States.
Players like Jose Iglesias, Yoenis Cespedes, Alexei Ramirez, and Brayan Pena had to be smuggled out of Cuba so they could play in the major leagues. The fact that the Tampa Bay Rays were able to safely play baseball in Cuba could mean that the dangerous escapes for Cuban baseball players could soon be over. The fact that President Obama could sit side by side with Raul Castro, the current Cuban leader, shows that the relationship between the two countries could be softening.
We at Motor City Bengals are not here to partake in political controversy; we are here to talk about baseball, the players, and the fans. It is hard to leave the politics out of this conversation; especially, considering that it was baseball that did the diplomacy. Think about that: BASEBALL is what is bringing two long-time enemies back together. The fact that this amazing game is doing this good work, imagine what else it could do around the world.
The baseball game was not a sign of disrespect to any of the players, their family members, and friends who may have suffered in any way. It was also not a sign of disrespect to any of the people who have defected or who have remained in the communist nation. Resolutions to long-time problems need to start somewhere and a baseball game at Estadio Latinoamericano was as good a place as any.
One of the most magical parts of the game was not the fact that President Obama was there, but that Rachel Robinson was there. The wife of Jackie Robinson was a symbol of what baseball can do, from breaking color barriers to relaxing decades-long tensions. The MLB could not have chosen a better symbol for this event.
At this point, the status between the United States and Cuba has not changed, so players are still not free to come to the US to play ball. But, hopefully, no more Cuban baseball players will ever have to endure what the Detroit Tigers shortstop had to do. Iglesias, along with the help of his father and a teammate from the Cuban junior national team, planned a defection in 2008. When the team was playing in Canada, Iglesias and his friend got in a car and crossed the border into the United States.
Crossing the border from Canada to the US may not sound like a big deal, but once a Cuban defects he has many potential dangers. He could have been arrested by the US and returned to Cuba, where he would have been imprisoned. Cuba would declare him a traitor and prevent him from ever seeing his family again. The people who knew he was defecting had to help him set up residency in the Dominican Republic, as well as arrange it so he could play baseball in the US. The process was long, expensive, and confusing.
These challenges have been breaking up families for decades, whether those families have been involved in baseball or not. Hopefully, many more games and that the relationships that began with this simple baseball game will continue to ease.
Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox expressed emotions that Cuban players could easily relate to: “I’m very blessed for that and all that has happened to me. This is a huge step for us, for people in Cuba…”
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