MLB considering games in Cuba

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Cuba could be a spring training destination once more.

Major League Baseball is considering playing future spring exhibition games on the island nation and baseball hotbed, which used to routinely host American teams in the days before Fidel Castro came to power.

Baseball players’ association president Tony Clark said Saturday there have been “ongoing” discussions about playing in Cuba, which recently renewed diplomatic ties with the United States. Clark said there were conversations about Cuba hosting games this spring, but there wasn’t enough time to finalize details.

“We weren’t able to put those pieces in play this go-around,” Clark said following his annual union meeting with the Cleveland Indians. “It is conceivable somewhere down the road that there may be a spring training game played in Cuba, but it’s hard to tell when at this point in time.”

The Baltimore Orioles played a spring exhibition in Havana against the Cuban national team in 1999, ending a 40-year gap since the last visit by a major league team.

Major league teams regularly held spring training camps in Cuba in the 1940s and `50s. The Cincinnati Reds had a Triple-A affiliate on the island, the Havana Sugar Kings.

Cuba and the U.S. have a long-time connection through baseball. Several Cuban-born players, including former stars Luis Tiant, Jose Canseco and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, as well as current players such as Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu, have thrived on MLB teams. Last season, 19 Cuban-born players were on major league rosters.

Clark said players understand that baseball, now more of an international game than ever, can play a part in the healing process between the U.S. and Cuba.

“I think what’s great is that you look around any locker room now and you appreciate how international and how global our game is,” Clark said. “Cuba being a piece that no one really knows about.”

“It seems like every Cuban player who comes over here is contributing significantly to our game and it’s beneficial for everyone. There is intrigue. There is interest. I’m very interested to see what happens here,” he said.

Indians manager Terry Francona visited Cuba in the late 1970s as a teenager, touring the communist nation with a U.S. national team. During the trip, Francona had his picture taken while shaking hands with Castro, but the photograph was of poor quality and it’s one he wishes he still had.

Francona does have great memories of his time in Cuba and would love the chance to go there again with his ballclub.

“I think it would be cool,” he said following practice. “My dad was there in ’56, and he said at the time it was almost better than the major leagues. There were four teams in Havana. He was the MVP of something and he came home with a black Cadillac. That’s not the winter ball I remember.”

ESPN, February 28, 2015

Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press

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