News that the Tampa Bay Rays will fly to Havana to play the Cuban national team on March 22 jumped from the sports section to the front page when the White House announced on Wednesday that President Obama plans to attend the historic exhibition game.
Set aside for a moment the fact that Obama is an unapologetic fan of the American national pastime (and the Chicago White Sox). His presence in el Estadio Latinoamericano could essentially turn into a diplomatic double play.
The sight of the U.S. president in the stands watching the first big-league franchise to visit the communist-run island since 1999 could drive home the significance of newly restored ties better than any carefully worded dispatches or restored airline flights.
And it could signal a coming shift in how cubanos get to the majors. Since the 1959 coup, Cuban ballplayers hungering to test themselves against the world’s best (not to mention thirsting for major-league pay) often left loved ones behind and risked their lives over shark-infested waters.
But now Major League Baseball has sent the Department of the Treasury a proposal that, per The New York Times, “outlines a new pathway for baseball players from Cuba to sign directly with big-league teams.”
That would benefit greatly those players still on the island and give defectors a chance to return home not as traitors but as idols.
While it’s not yet known whether the Castros, longtime baseball zealots, plan to attend the game, would they really miss a chance to see how their team fares against those damn yanquis?
Maybe Fidel and Raúl will offer Obama tips on which Cuban players the White Sox should scout. That would certainly beat the “beer summit” of 2009. And should Obama choose to commemorate the moment with a selfie, it would at least be a more appropriate venue than the last time something like that happened.