It’s possible spring training in 2016 could be spiced up by exhibition games in Cuba, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred monitors the normalization of U.S. relations with the country.
President Barrack Obama has already moved forward with normalized relations with Cuba, meeting with President Raul Castro and removing the country from a list of terrorism supporters. While these changes came too late for 2015 spring training, they’re coming in plenty of time for 2016, which Manfred sees as the perfect opportunity for sports diplomacy, per CP:
“I can envision us playing games in Cuba,” Manfred told the Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday. “I’m hopeful that the situation in terms of actual changes in federal policy clarifies in time to put us in a position to play some exhibition games in Cuba next spring.”
“I think that’s the most likely starting place for us. We’ve made clear to the U.S. government that we are more than willing to play a role at a time that in their view is appropriate, and we think Cuba presents some really interesting possibilities for us going forward over the longer term,” he said.
Following the overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista’s government by Fidel Castro’s forces at the end of 1958, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds met in March 1959 in what would be the last game between major league teams in Cuba in four decades.
The Orioles and Cuba’s national team played a two-game series in 1999 in Havana and Baltimore.
Cuba represents an interesting issue for Major League Baseball. Because of the tortured past between the United States and Cuba, Cuban defectors must first set up residency in another country before entering MLB. That’s led to plenty of corruption and a shady system of agents, investors and facilitators. Cuba is a rich source of MLB players: 74 Cuban players were under major and minor league contracts on opening day. If MLB were to normalize business relations with Cuba, you could see players subjected to the draft and, down the line, the establishment of baseball academies a la the Dominican Republic.
In any case, it will bear watching to see if a trip to the Grapefruit League could include a weekend trip to Gran Stadium for a series again Miami and Washington. Just sayin’.
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