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In Cuba, Visit From Obama, Rays Offers An Opportunity02:50
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What will happen if relations between the U.S. and Cuba continue to improve?

According to Cuban pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo, winner of Gold medals at the Olympics and in international competition, a Cuban team that could combine for the first time players who’ve remained on the island and those playing in the Major Leagues would win the next World Baseball Classic, set for 2017.

According to Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, MLB might be able to get out of what he characterized as “a very uncomfortable position.” He’d like to see coveted Cuban players find jobs in his league without having to pay smugglers working with drug cartels.

In 1999, the Orioles played on the island and hosted the Cubans in Baltimore. Neither capitalism nor communism imploded. Neither did relations between the two nations improve.

U.S. baseball has a history with Cuba. On Tuesday, a New York Times piece by Randal Archibald reminded fans that the Dodgers, then of Brooklyn, traveled to Cuba for spring training in 1947 after receiving threats about what would happen to Jackie Robinson if he showed up at their Florida camp.

During the decades before Robinson joined the Dodgers, black players were prevented from playing in the Major Leagues by something ironically called “the gentlemen’s agreement.” But Negro League stalwarts enjoyed opportunities to play in the top leagues in Cuba, Mexico, and elsewhere in Latin America. Their teammates were black, white and tan. Sometimes their managers were black or tan. Baseball in the U.S. came very late to that particular party.

In 1999, the Orioles played on the island and hosted the Cubans in Baltimore. Neither capitalism nor communism imploded. Neither did relations between the two nations improve.

An incident more promising occurred back in 1987, when Team USA played a best-of-five game series with the Cuban National Team. As S.L. Price recalls for Sports Illustrated, Jim Abbott, who played in the Majors despite having only one hand, pitched and won a game for the U.S. At one point, he threw out one of Cuba’s heroes on a ground ball back to the mound. Fifty-thousand Cubans in the Havana stands cheered that dexterous move and every other move Abbot made.

Time to take our cue from those fans as baseball once again offers up an opportunity.

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