Yesterday I stumbled upon a great resource for baseball fans and researchers: the Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project digital collection at the University of Miami. The collection includes several videos of oral history interviews that were conducted with “members of the first generations of Cubans to leave the island after the Cuban Revolution.”
The online collection contains two baseball-related interviews. The first is an oral history interview with Andres Fleitas, former player for the Almendares Blues of the Cuban baseball leagues. The University of Miami libraries blog includes a summary of the interview, and the online collection has a video of the interview. The other interview is with Rafael “Felo” Ramírez, the Spanish-language broadcaster for the Miami Marlins. The online collection contains a video of his interview, as well.
It will take some time to analyze – and simply mull over- the events of yesterday: MLB in Cuba, the President in Cuba, the President at a baseball game in Cuba. And Chris Archer and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays practically giddy with excitement.
It was wondrous to behold. Even if only on TV.
Politics played a big part of yesterday, of course. Not only did President Obama discuss his Cuba plans on ESPN, they also published an article by Obama on his visit to Cuba. In case you missed it, the ESPN interview with President Obama:
We’ll have to wait and see what changes actually come about in Cuba – and MLB – as a result of this event. In the meantime, at least we got to enjoy a pretty cool baseball game.
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 Timesquoted 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” ?
¿Que bolá Cuba? Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.
With all the media coverage of Obama and the Rays’ visit to Cuba, what’s a baseball fan supposed to do? The Baseball Sociologist has it covered. Below are links to some of the most interesting articles posted over the last few days on various news websites: