Cuba and the World Baseball Classic: An Introduction

Ninety miles south of Key West, Florida, lies Havana, the capital of the island of Cuba. But for its geographic proximity, most Americans know little of the culture on the island outside of the unique role Cuba and its ruler Fidel Castro played during the history of the Cold War.

While Cuba is open to the rest of the world, its tumultuous relationship with the United States has led to an aura of mystique surrounding the island nation. We hear of Cuba in the context of the United States military base at Guantanamo Bay. We hear of Cuba when high-profile Cubans defect to America. Sports stars escape the grip of Fidel Castro to bring baseball teams to the World Series. We hear of Cuba when Fidel Castro makes another anti-American statement or when embargos are enacted.

Meanwhile, the island itself is a fascinating study in culture. Just a short plane ride from Florida, but inaccessible to many in the United States, the nation of Cuba with its population of 11 million has no official way of getting information from the United States. The only U.S.-based radio stations broadcast to Cuba are Radio Free Cuba and Voice of America. But despite all of this, baseball is incredibly popular in Cuba. In fact, it may even be more popular in Cuba than it is in the United States of America.

I attended an eye-opening session on Cuban baseball this past Friday. Sponsored by Florida International University and the Inter-American Dialogue, Cuba and the World Baseball Classic featured two leading authorities on Cuban baseball and a Cuban-American policy expert discussing Cuban baseball, the upcoming World Baseball Classic, and the conflict between the Treasury Department and Major League Baseball over Cuba’s participation in the tournament.

This week, I want to present my readers with my analysis of the discussion. Kevin Baxter, Miami Herald international baseball writer, and Tim Wendel, Baseball Weekly co-founder and author of The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America’s Favorite Sport, spoke extensively about Cuban baseball. From tales of super-obsessed fans to the passion in the stands during the Cuban National Series to warning signs that Fidel Castro may pull his team out of the WBC at the last minute, the two brought up so much information on a nation so close to the United States.

Meanwhile, Steve Johnson, the Cuban expert from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C., provided an overview of the political situation between Cuba and the United States. While Johnson had the least to say about baseball of the three on the panel, his contributions contextualized the discussion. He explained how the rise of Communism so close to the United States during the height of the Cold War ultimately led to the current icy relationship between Cuba and the United States. In fact, his ten-minute introduction set the stage for an explanation of the Treasury decision to deny Cuba initial entrance into the tournament.

In the middle of December, the United States Department of Treasury announced that Cuba could not send a delegation of players to the World Baseball Classic. Because of a long-standing economic embargo against Cuba, the Treasury Department declined to issue a permit for the Cuban team. This embargo stems from a limitation on the commercial transactions between Americans and government organizations from Cuba. Because all teams participating in the World Baseball Classic would be receiving American funds for their participation, the Treasury Department saw this as a violation of the embargo. Thus, they declined Major League Baseball’s request for a permit for Cuba.

A few weeks later, after much political maneuvering by Major League Baseball and members of the government sympathetic to Cuba, the Treasury Department reversed its decision. Cuba could send a team to the tournament on the condition that they do not profit off of the tournament. In turn, Fidel Castro agreed to donate any proceeds from the World Baseball Classic to hurricane-relief organizations helping the island recover from a damaging 2005 hurricane season.

During his analysis of the situation, Johnson was highly critical of the Treasury Department’s attempts at shutting Cuba out of the tournament. While Americans often view Cuba as a country in need of democratization, the American government, Johnson argued, should work to improve its own image among the inhabitants of Cuba. We shouldn’t just be seen as a threat to the Cuban government. Stressing collaboration through sports, Johnson spoke of the need to win what amounts to propaganda battles in Cuba. While Castro spouts off anti-American rhetoric to a captive audience, the United States has to earn the trust of the Cuban people if the American-Cuban relationship is to improve during and, arguably more importantly, after Castro’s lifetime.

By allowing the Cubans into the World Baseball Classic, Johnson argued, it puts politics in the background. “The thing we have to gain is their opportunity to see the United States and to have a fellowship through sports,” he said. “In baseball, we can begin to recognize others on the island who are as big on Cuba as Castro is. We can show our flag in ways that do not threaten the government.”

The future of U.S.-Cuba interactions is very much up for grabs. Castro, who turns 80 in August, will not be around forever, and the fight for the political future of Cuba is sure to invoke U.S. intervention once El Presidente passes on. Meanwhile, Cuba and America have much in common, and Americans should be looking for ways to reach out to Cubans to show a compassionate side. A deep passion for baseball, the national sport of these two countries, is as good a starting place as any.

With the World Baseball Classic just a few weeks away, Cubans may earn a different glimpse of American society. This time, Cubans will see many players they consider heroes. They will compete against the Derek Jeter’s, Mark Teixeira’s, David Ortiz’s, and Johan Santana’s. And the Cuban National Team, Gold medal finalists in 2004, will battle for the tournament’s top spot.

So as Cuban baseball fans – and that is, according to Baxter and Wendel, all 11 million Cubans – and the National Team prepares for this tournament, the world will just have to wait and see what the future holds for American-Cuban dialogues. The common language of baseball could just serve to unite two neighboring countries. That is, if Cuba participates in the tournament. It is no sure thing.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Cuba and the World Baseball Classic: An Introduction”


  1. 1 Havana Times February 3, 2009 at 6:21 am

    You are probably interested in this post

    Cuba and World Baseball Classic II

    Havana Times will be teaming up with Peter C. Bjarkman, the foremost outside expert on Cuban baseball, by featuring his exclusive “World Baseball Classic Diary” in our coverage of the 2009 WBC with a special focus on the Cuban team both on-and-off the field.

    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=4299


  1. 1 Talking Baseball » Blog Archive » Cuba and the WBC: The international appeal of baseball Trackback on February 23, 2006 at 1:11 am
Comments are currently closed.



RSS River Ave. Blues

  • Rays 2, Yankees 1: A forgettable loss if there ever was one June 23, 2018
    Ugh, I hate that the Yankees only win most games and not all games. The Yanks dropped a completely forgettable series opener to the Rays on Friday night. Giancarlo Stanton made a great catch and … that’s it? Nothing else of note happened. The final score was 2-1. Sabathia Bends, Breaks Only A Little Pretty […] The post Rays 2, Yankees 1: A forgettable loss i […]
    Mike Axisa
  • DotF: Clarke Schmidt debuts following Tommy John surgery June 23, 2018
    MLB.com posted their midseason top 100 prospects list today. Three Yankees made it: OF Estevan Florial (No. 39), LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 42), and RHP Albert Abreu (No. 65). 2B Gleyber Torres and 3B Miguel Andujar are no longer prospect eligible while RHP Chance Adams, who was No. 66 before the season, has dropped out […] The post DotF: Clarke Schmidt debut […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Game 73: A Trip to the Trop June 22, 2018
    The season is nearly halfway complete, and the Yankees are just now making their first trip to Tropicana Field. Very weird schedule this year. I’m not complaining. The Trop stinks. Just pointing out the schedule is weird. First of three in St. Pete tonight. As for the Yankees, my goodness they are red hot right […] The post Game 73: A Trip to the Trop appear […]
    Mike Axisa
  • 6/22 to 6/24 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays June 22, 2018
    For the first time this season, the Yankees will play in Tropicana Field. They’re in Tampa for three games this weekend. The Last Time They Met It seems like just yesterday that the Yankees hosted the Rays, but that’s not quite true; in fact, it was last week. The Rays visited the Bronx last weekend, […] The post 6/22 to 6/24 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays a […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Yankeemetrics: Bomber Brooms, Seattle Sweep (June 19-21) June 22, 2018
    Domingo+Dingers=Win After a quick trip to the nation’s capital, the Yankees were back at the friendly confines on Tuesday night and opened their series with an easy 7-2 win over the Mariners. Domingo German was absolutely brilliant in his eighth career start. After giving up a run (unearned) in the first inning, he retired 19(!) […] The post Yankeemetrics: B […]
    Katie Sharp
  • Mailbag: Torres, Adams, Loaisiga, Gardner, Drury, Judge, Bundy June 22, 2018
    There are ten questions in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address, so send your questions there each week. Ryan asks: Any explanation for the power Torres is showing in the majors? I think I read he had only 24 homers in like 1,500 at bats in the minors. […] The post Mailbag: Torres, Adams, Loaisiga, Gardner, Drury, […]
    Mike Axisa
  • DotF: Wagner goes deep yet again in Tampa’s win June 22, 2018
    Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (3-1 win over Lehigh Valley) SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 SB — 24-for-73 (.329) with five doubles, a triple, and two homers in his last 17 games … that looks a lot more like pre-2018 Tyler Wade 1B Brandon Drury: 1-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K — second start […] The post DotF: Wagner goes deep yet again in Tampa’s win appeared […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Thursday Night Open Thread June 21, 2018
    ?Good game today, great series this week. The Yankees finished the three-game sweep of the Mariners this afternoon and they are now 28 games — 28 games! — over .500 on June 21st. Feels awesome. The 2018 Yankees are not perfect, far from it, but damn, is this team good or what? Great team and […] The post Thursday Night Open Thread appeared first on River Ave […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Yankees 4, Mariners 3: A Seattle Sweep June 21, 2018
    What started as a laugher ended as a bit of a nail-biter. But, a win is a win. The Yankees completed the three-game sweep of the Mariners on Thursday afternoon to pick up their 50th win of the season. Fifty wins in 72 games. Last year the 50th win came in the 95th game. Smell […] The post Yankees 4, Mariners 3: A Seattle Sweep appeared first on River Avenue […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Gleyber Torres says he’s going to pass on the Home Run Derby June 21, 2018
    According to Ken Davidoff, Gleyber Torres said he will pass on participating in the Home Run Derby next month. It’s unknown whether MLB has invited him, but it doesn’t matter now. Torres will pass. “I’m not a home-run hitter. I’m a contact hitter,” he said. Gleyber may not seem like the Home Run Derby type, […] The post Gleyber Torres says he’s going to pass […]
    Mike Axisa

Blog Stats

  • 62,703 hits
Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: