MLB Returns to Cuba: Mending the Gap

President Barack Obama (Right) and Cuban President Raul Castro (Left) wave to the crowd before the first pitch between a Major league team and a Cuban international team in over 15 years (

The Tampa Bay Rays played the Cuban national team in Havana, Cuba March 22 in an effort to link the MLB with Cuban baseball. This was the first exhibition game between a major league team and the Cuban national team in 17 years. More importantly, it was a representation of the ties between Americans and Cubans, despite the isolation that has existed for over a decade.

President Obama was in attendance at the Estadio Latinoamericano, along with Cuban president Raul Castro.

According to, Obama believed that this baseball game could be, “a small step that shows that our nations can begin to move beyond the divisions of the past and look toward a future of greater connections and cooperation between our countries.”

While the Cuban national team hasn’t won an international game in more than a decade, this baseball game was about way more than the swing of the bat.

The MLB has been making a conscious effort to begin talks with both nations’ governments on a potential deal that could make it easier for Cuban ballplayers to play in the United States without having to sneak away at international tournaments or risk high-seas defections with human smuggler.

Varona is emotional as he reunites with his family for the first time in 3 years (Sports Illustrated).
Varona is emotional as he reunites with his family for the first time in 3 years (Sports Illustrated).

The only Cuban-born player on the Rays’ roster is outfielder Dayron Varona, a 28-year-old from Havana who left Cuba on a boat to Haiti in 2013. Since then, Varona has been working on getting his family visas so he can one day be reunited with them in America. His unique story truly shows the power of baseball. Varona was able to see his family for the first time in three years when the Rays were selected to play in Cuba. Varona will be the first batter on a major league team in 16 years to make a plate appearance in Cuba. It is only right that the Rays selected Varona to bat first.

This historic meeting on the diamond ended with a score of 4-1 in the Rays favor. However in the long run, the result does not matter. This is the first step in the MLB’s plan to bring together American and Cuban baseball. Using baseball as common ground, this game is a small stepping-stone toward what can be seen as America’s long term goal of bringing both nations to peace.