Yesterday, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Boston Red Sox expressed interest in playing an exhibition game in Cuba this spring.
“At this time, there are no plans for a game, nor is there is expected to be. It is believed that a Red Sox fan of some note, Secretary of State John Kerry, has had a voice in the conversations … the team is sensitive to making sure all parties — Major League Baseball, the players’ association and respective governments, among others — are fully vetted and that the timing for a game works for all” (Olney, ESPN.com). Olney’s report also suggests that the Baltimore Orioles are interested in a game held in Cuba, even as early as this spring.
This news comes after President Barack Obama made an international splash by saying that the United States wants to repair relations with the Cuban government, after decades of strife. Recent reports from The Huffington Post claim that the U.S. wants to reconnect with Cuba before a summit in Panama in April. “The United States is pressing Cuba to allow the opening of its embassy in Havana by April, U.S. officials told Reuters, despite the Communist island’s demand that it first be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism” (HuffingtonPost.com). Likely, this removal will not happen any time soon, as the long-standing issues with the two countries’ ideologies will not be forgotten so easily. However, there seems to be hope for some type of ongoing settlement in the near future, the first progress for peace in decades.
Just as McDonald’s infiltrated China, when the country finally allowed business relations between its people and the U.S., Major League Baseball and its teams must see this peace talk as a great opportunity. With all of the international legal issues at present to bring Cuban players to America, costing clubs huge stacks of cash to merely have the opportunity to sign their young talent, having games in Cuba may help to simplify matters. If the Cuban market bonds to the first North American teams to play on Cuban soil in ages, it will help those teams in negotiations. If the two countries’ governments are more relaxed about business relations, it should carry over to what rules can be eliminated from the process, as a sign of good faith.
The Red Sox brass has shown such interest in Cuban baseball players, in recent years, that this report makes very logical sense. Signing Rusney Castillo costs Boston $72.5 million through 2020, which took the execs many hours of planning and prodding of not only the player, but his home country and his former team, as well. The same process has been implemented, recently, in trying to sign Yoan Moncada, which one National League talent evaluator said, “He could be the next Robinson Cano [or] Chase Utley, but more Cano … That’s the kind of potential bat we’re talking about” (Rickey Doyle, NESN.com). However, many teams have also expressed the same interest in Moncada, making for another bidding war.
Oct 7, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstopHanley Ramirez
(left) and outfielderYasiel Puig
(right) at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
If the Red Sox are serious about finding more Cuban players like Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes, they need to strike while the iron is hot. Cuba’s thirst for baseball can have a Bostonian flavor, showing loyalty to the historic city because of childhood memories at the ballpark, watching the Red Sox play for the first time in person. There is something to be said about being first. Seeing former Cubans playing on a U.S. team, being successful on multiple platforms, may stimulate other future stars to sign with the Red Sox, too.
Ironically, Boston had Cespedes before trading him away, but Cuban talent demands compensation. In this case, starting pitcher Rick Porcello was the big chip in return. Acquiring the Cuban ideal means acquiring valuable baseball assets, possibly at an easier rate and a less financial risk. But first, Cuba would have to see that business partnerships for exhibition games and other ventures will be mutually beneficial with Major League Baseball. The U.S. government will have to be reassured that the decisions will be in the best interests of its people, in more than just baseball and business. It is all about compensation.
One thing is for sure, though: defection is not without risk. If the world is to grow, the idea that young men feel the need to defect from their home country, for fear of death or reprisal, simply to play a game that they love, is a terrible way of life. Without laying blame on anyone’s step, this matter needs to be resolved. If the Red Sox can help, even if it is not out of the goodness of their hearts, should we not encourage it? These ballplayers are coming to a country, with little-to-no English or human support of any kind, on the possibility that they might make the big clubs and find success. Their skill sets are raw at best, but with amazing potential to dominate the game. If the Cubans are free to mix with the U.S., they could bring people with them to support and guide them on and off the field. No more culture shocks or wasted time on frivolous rebellion against their former communist lifestyles. They can just concentrate on baseball, which will only make teams like the Red Sox better for it.