According to Wikipedia, American sailors and Cuban college students who had studied in the U.S. introduced baseball to Cuba in the 1860s. One of the first baseball teams, the Havana Base Ball Club, was formed in 1868 by Nemesio and Ernesto Guillot. Nemesio had attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL. However, Spain banned baseball in Cuba in 1869 after the first Cuban War of Independence. Thus, baseball became a symbol of freedom for Cuba.
Is baseball still a symbol of freedom? If so, does President Obama’s presence at today’s game, the Tampa Bay Rays v. the Cuban National Team, hold even more significance?
According to the Washington Post, the President’s deputy national security advisor (and baseball fan), Ben Rhodes recommended the use of “baseball diplomacy” as a way to established new ties with Cuba. The Post quoted Rhodes as saying, “Beyond policies and programs, this trip is about marking a historic milestone with the Cuban people and going to a game that represents our shared pastime is a way for the President to share this moment with them. He’s pleased that MLB is engaging the Cuban people and hopes it’s just one more step in normalizing relations in a way that benefits our peoples and increases the bonds between them.” Similarly, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated a few weeks ago, “During a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba’s storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans.”
The Tampa Bay Times quoted Orioles outfielder Henry Urrutia, who had been a 12-year old fan in the stands when the Orioles played Cuba in 1999, as stating, “This game, it is going to be, I think, better than last time because people see this in a different way. Before, in Cuba, a lot of people saw it in a political way. I think now it’s different.” Yoenis Cespedes, outfielder for the New York Mets who also was born in Cuba, told the Times how important the game was for the Cuban people: “It’s gonna mean a lot over there, just because we really don’t have access to Major League Baseball. Not because the people don’t want to see it, but because it is limited. It’s going to be great for the people to see Major League Baseball players. It means a lot that they are playing there. A very big step.”
So, is the trip all about the restoration of diplomatic ties, business expansion into Cuba, finding a faster/safer way for Cuban players to make it to MLB, or a combination of all of the above? Or maybe it’s just about catching a game during Spring Break. Maybe Obama was simply trying to say, “What a ball (game)!” when he said “Que bola Cuba” ?
Enjoy the game!