Bienvenidos Major League Baseball a Cuba!
For the first time since the Baltimore Orioles played the Cuban National Team in Havana 16 years ago, MLB will return to the Communist island this month for a goodwill tour led by Hall of Famers Joe Torre and Dave Winfield.
MLB and the Players Association announced Thursday that Torre, now MLB’s chief baseball officer, and Winfield, now a special advisor to union executive director Tony Clark, will lead a group of current major leaguers — the Daily News has learned it will be 8 to 10 big name players — on a four-day visit, Dec. 15-18. The trip will include a stop at a children’s clinic in Havana and a charity event with Caritas Cubana, a Catholic charitable organization on the island.
“Major League Baseball is very fortunate to have an opportunity to play a constructive role in the improvement of our country’s relations with Cuba, and it is particularly pleasing that our sport has a significant number of highly-decorated ambassadors who can make an impression both on and off the field,” said baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. “Baseball represents a pivotal common bond in our cultures, and the impact that Cuban ballplayers have made on our game is undeniable. I am hopeful that this tour will represent the beginning of a longstanding relationship.”
A year ago, President Obama announced that the U.S. was restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than five decades of Cold War and modern era tensions. An economic embargo with Cuba is still in place. The island has a rich baseball history dating back to Hall of Fame pitcher Martin Dihigo, who pitched in the 1920s and ’30s, all the way to this fall’s World Series, which featured Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who hails from Campechuela, a tiny town in southeastern Cuba.
But it’s unclear how long it will take before wholesale change might occur in Cuba with regard to the business of baseball. Many Cuban players who are or have been on major league rosters, have often taken perilous journeys to realize their MLB dreams. Cuban players who leave the island, typically set up residence in another country, provided they make it to their journey’s end safely. Once the Cuban players accomplish that step, they can land more lucrative contracts from MLB teams. If they defected and went directly to the U.S., the players would be subject to the draft.
By Christian Red, Daily News
December 3, 2015