The Tampa Bay Rays will face the Cuban national team today in Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano stadium, in yet another case where sports and politics collide. Cuban’s love baseball it is their national game and it is no surprise to anyone in the Tampa Bay area where today’s game is so important.
President Barack Obama will join Cuban President Raul Castro watching the game in what will look to fans more like a AA baseball park. Cuba wants to Major League Baseball to work with Cuba to allow peloteros, or baseball players, play in both countries.
This is the first trip to Cuba by an MLB team since the Baltimore Orioles on March 28, 1999. Major League Baseball has not been quiet about their hope that normalizing relations will help them open the talent rich Cuban market.
The commissioner Rob Manfred, will be attending the game and he will be joined by chief baseball officer Joe Torre. MLB has invited former players Derek Jeter, Jose Cardenal and Luis Tiant. Back in December a number of players, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera and Yasiel Puig, were among the group who made the trip.
This is another opportunity where sports plays a role in politics. Tickets to the game cost a mere 15 cents. There won’t be any beer being sold, the fans will be enjoying cafecitos, a sugary drink and of course there will be Cuban cigars.
Earlier this week MLB talked about their future goals for relations with Cuba. ” We hope to create a safe and legal path for Cuban baseball players who desire to play in major league baseball to reach the major leagues,” Dan Halem, the league’s chief legal officer, told reporters.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters last week that work still remained on negotiating a deal between MLB and the Cuban government for signing players directly on the island.
“Baseball is obviously something that the United States and the Cuban people share a common love of and it’s a part of both of our heritages, and frankly, also part of the type of exchanges that we are pursuing in business, in culture, in the arts, in sports that can bring the American and Cuban people closer together,” Rhodes said.
There is a long way to go before Cuba and the United States are ready for normal relations but Major League Baseball will be ready when that day comes.