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U.S.-Cuba Reconnect Could Change Major League Baseball

Boston Red Sox's Yoenis Cespedes follows through on a single in his first at-bat as a Red Sox player, as New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli watches during the second inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Former Athletic & Red Sox, and now Detroit Tigers outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is just one example of Cuban talent coming to play in the MLB.

MARQUETTE, MI – 12/17/2014 – After spending five years in a Cuban prison, American contractor Alan Gross has landed back in the United States.  This was the Cuban side of a prisoner-exchange that saw three Cubans returned that were being held as well.  This was followed by an announcement from President Obama stating that the United States and Cuba are going to immediately begin talks to restore diplomatic relations.  While both sides say they have great differences still in many issues, they know that countries that are 90-miles apart need to be able to work in a “civilized manner,” as Cuban President Raul Castro stated to his people today.  So there is definitely some work to be done, but it is an encouraging sign for both sides.

Now I’m a sports guy.  I always try to think of how things could effect my sports, and this is no different.  It’s actually better.  85 players have defected from Cuba to play in the Majors in league history. 27 are still active, and these men have gone through the life-threatening chore of just making it here to play baseball. Stars such as Detroit Tigers Yoenis Cespedes, Chicago White Sox Jose Abreu, and Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig all went through pain-staking tasks to get to the MLB, illegally in Cuba’s mind.  Yasiel Puig’s story in particular is something worth reading up on, as in this “USA Today” article.

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig has batted for .305 and 35 HR since making his season debut from Cuba in 2013.

Cuba is notorious for having immense baseball talent.  Now while it wasn’t in the 2012 version, Cuba played for the gold medal in every Olympic Games from 1992-2008, winning three of them.  In the World Baseball Classic, Cuba finished with a silver medal in 2006, falling to Japan.  Either way you look at it, Cuba has a plethora of talent in baseball.  Why is this latest development in US-Cuban relations a big deal?  It is a big deal, because if 85 players were literally willing to put their lives on the line just to get a chance to play in the MLB, how many more are going to come over to play should the US & Cuba reestablish diplomacy between each other?  Of those 85 players that have defected, nine have become all-stars.  That’s almost one out of every nine player to come to the Majors.  While that rate is unsustainable, it shows just how talented these people are, and how much they care about baseball.

I don’t know about you, but I am very excited by this news from an avid MLB fan’s perspective.  We could be in for a new age of baseball, and it’s definitely something to get your hopes up for!

-Carl Leander Johnson

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