Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Something more than an exhibition game

Former Minnesota Twins catcher Rene Rivera, now with
the Tampa Bay Rays, talks Monday with 9-year-old Diego Lopez
 at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana.

Today baseball stands at a rare crossroads of history, diplomacy and commerce. The Tampa Bay Rays will play an exhibition game in Havana against the (depleted) Cuban national team, with the presidents of both the United States and Cuba in attendance and broadcast back to the United States on ESPN.

The game serves as a centerpiece of President Obama's visit to the island nation and a symbol of the controversial thaw in relations. Baseball, the sport, may be our "national pastime," but it is also Cuba's obsession, and as such uniquely positioned for a role in the inevitable and necessary rapprochement between the two neighbors.

This is a baseball blog, not one on politics or foreign policy. But today they are intertwined. For baseball the business, Cuba is a source of talent tainted by moral complexities, with rumors of kidnapping and extortion accompanying the defections of athletes. Someday, perhaps, Cuba will also become a source of revenues, although that will require more significant change on the island that I expect to see in my lifetime. 

For baseball the game, Cuba is a source of love and enthusiasm. On that basis alone, baseball and its fans should embrace the change in the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

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