If you’re a baseball fan and an aficionado of Cuba (of course you are) you’re probably jubilant at the new that Major League Baseball is contemplating bringing some spring training games to the island nation.
Before the revolution, Major League teams frequently played exhibition games in Cuba and the legendary Havana Sugar Kings tore it up in the triple-A International League, beating Minneapolis to capture the 1959 Little World Series that represented the championship of the next to big leagues in North America. The following year, after the Revolution and under pressure from the US Secretary of State, the Kings were re-located to Jersey City NJ. In 1999, The Baltimore Orioles ventured to Havana for an exhibition game, but that has been the only occasion where official US baseball visited since ‘59.
Nonetheless, there’s a staggering amount of baseball in Cuba with 16 highly skilled Serie Nacional de Béisbol teams duking it out in front of packed stadiums. Cuba’s national team is a force to be reckoned with in the Olympics and in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) with a 13-7 won-loss record.
Cubans have always been stars in the Major Leagues and that remains the case although they have needed to emigrate illegally to do so. Players who have found their way into the Major Leagues continue to very successful in the US; there are currently almost 30.
It appears the whole situation is about to change. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Commissioner Rob Manfred had expressed hope that a Major League Baseball team would play exhibition games in Cuba during spring training next year, saying that “it would be a good thing for baseball.”
The Times also reports “Since President Obama announced his intention to normalize relations with Cuba in December, administration and M.L.B. officials have been involved in talks with Cuban officials on a number of issues. Last month, several baseball officials traveled to Cuba to examine baseball fields and other facilities to determine whether teams could play there in the spring.”
So baseball fans, you may want to plan an extra trip to Cuba in spring 2016 for some big league matches. You’ll find the Cuban fans are as knowledgeable as those in San Francisco or KC and probably more opinionated. Cuba’s passion for great baseball is sure to rub off on the MLB teams that visit, which certainly will be a great thing for all concerned. Could there once again be a Cuban team in the Bigs? Not likely, but I’m wagering you’ll hear a lot more Cuban Spanish in the Majors soon. That will certainly enhance teams like the 2015 World Series rivals who both had Cubans on their roster- Royals: Kendrys Morales; Mets: Yoenis Céspedes! Play ball!