President Obama’s decision last week to soften the U.S. position toward Cuba ought to draw widespread applause. Look, the United States has befriended renegade regimes with far worse human rights records than Raúl Castro’s, so the fuss many Republicans have been making over what Obama did is the sort of partisan discord that has marked their relationship with the country’s first Black president. Regardless of the politics behind it, Obama’s decision promises to bring three Cuban imports to U.S. shores: cigars, sugar cane and Cuban ballplayers.
And, of those three, baseball defines Cuba best. For the sport is to its people what soccer is to Brazilians and hockey is to Canadians. To say baseball borders on a religion there might not be blasphemous.
For the country’s connection to baseball, American-style, goes deep into the last century. Before the United States cut its ties to the Fidel Castro regime in the late 1950s, Black ballplayers and Cubans played side-by-side in the Negro Leagues. Once integration came to the big leagues, dark-skinned Cubans migrated there as well.
The Communist country has always been deep in prospects. It should have a new line of talent ready to follow in the footsteps of Minnie Minoso, Luis Taint, Tony Oliva, Jose Canseco, Orlando Hernandez, Livan Hernandez, Danys Baez, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Rey Ordonez and Yasiel Puig.
To baseball fans here, the thought of that talent finding its way to the Majors must be intoxicating. Talent grows like kudzu on an island where ballplayers are royalty.
“There’s just a whole bunch of young kids who are really, really good,” Gustavo “Gus” Dominguez, a man convicted of smuggling Cubans into the United States, told FoxNews.com last week. “Whether the U.S. opens up to (Cuba) or not, there’s certainly the talent.”
Americans who follow baseball must be saddened that, because of the 54-year embargo, they were unable to watch players who refused to or couldn’t defect to the United States. Most toiled in obscurity, never cashing in on the riches that playing in the big leagues surely would have brought them.
The thought of that talent being sprinkled across the Major League landscape might be what baseball needs to help it recapture its perch atop the American sports scene. While its mega-salaries draw headlines, the sport is barely above an afterthought when compared to football and basketball.
An influx of talent can change that perception and talent could open Cubans to a world they had not even been able to dream about.
So what President Obama did in knocking down the barriers between the two countries isn’t mere symbolism. He shined a spotlight on an evolving America, showing the world a country that can push aside its old policies and celebrate differences.
If baseball benefits from that celebration – and it should – all the better.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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