USATSI_9203411_154511044_lowresThe Tampa Bay Rays are in the midst of a trip to Cuba where they will be the first Major League Baseball team to play on the island since 1999.

The trip is being billed as “historic.” It is being said that this is a symbolic moment for the new openness between our two countries. Everywhere you look on MLB and Rays social media, you see smiling ballplayers and personnel. Everything is great. What a time, right?!

Right?

Well, it is great for everybody except those who have had their lives torn apart by the regime that is still in power in Cuba. Make no mistake: Fidel Castro is no longer the president. But the regime that killed many, exiled many more, and caused countless families to be destroyed is still in power.

So, while MLB and the Rays celebrate the trip, many Cuban-Americans are skeptical that a baseball game is going to change anything.

Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald and ESPN Radio is one of those Cuban-Americans. He wrote a fantastic column for the Miami Herald on MLB’s trip to Cuba that is a must-read for anybody who is interested in seeing the whole picture and putting the trip in proper perspective. Here is a snippet:

Another loss. That’s what this already feels like to so much of Miami, before the “historic” baseball game has even been played. As if the Cubans who fled to this country haven’t already felt enough of those losses over the decades. Lost childhoods. Lost roots. Lost families. Lost land. Lost freedoms. Lost lives in the ocean that divides Cuba and America like the million miles of distance between desperation and hope.

So much happy coverage on the television this week. Historic visit! America and Baseball celebrating themselves. Obama and Jeter and ESPN head toward communism like it is another cruise port, so many symbols of Americana descending on a rotting island stuck in the 1950s, and it doesn’t feel quite right back in Miami, like watching a funeral morph into a party. The history of my own people feels like it is either being ignored or trampled here, and I’m not quite sure which of those feels worse.

America extends its hand toward a dictator who has the blood of my people on his own. And now my parents, old exiles, have to watch Obama and Jeter and ESPN throw a happy party on land that was stolen from my family … as the rest of America celebrates it, no less. That’s going to hurt, no matter how you feel about the politics.

LeBatard goes on to write about the struggles of his family and the hurt they still feel. But he also writes about issues that impact the Rays. When LeBatard writes “Lost land,” it is something that has a direct bearing on the Rays game on Tuesday.

The Rays will play the Cuban National Team in Estadio Latinoamericano. That stadium used to be called Gran Estadio de La Habana, or The Great Stadium, when it was owned by Bobby Maduro. He paid $1.8 million in 1946 ($22 million in today’s dollars) to build the stadium to house the Havana Sugar Kings, which would eventually become the Cincinnati Reds’ triple-A club. But when tensions rose in Cuba in 1960, Maduro was forced to move his team to New Jersey and the Cuban government confiscated the stadium.

“Everything was gone,” said Jorge Maduro on ESPN, the son of Bobby Maduro. “The stadium, the Sugar Kings, all that, it was all taken away.”

It had been the dream of the elder Maduro to have the Sugar Kings become an MLB franchise. It never happened. Instead, another MLB team, the Rays, will go and play in a stadium that was stolen from him.

I understand if you don’t want to get into the politics. If this is just a cool baseball moment in your life, that’s fine. But the “grand importance” of the event in Cuban-American history is a card that is probably being overplayed by MLB and the Rays.

Here is the ESPN clip on the Sugar Kings:

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3 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    I agree with LeBatard that the embargo hasn't worked to improve the lives of everyday Cubans, and I agree it's time to try something else, but, like him, I don't believe this is a moment to celebrate. I wish the media, instead, would take this as an opportunity to educate readers, viewers and listeners on the history of this relationship, but I guess that doesn't fit in a headline. I don't think there are many Americans under the age of 40 who understand. I know many single-issue voters who are passionate about their own cause, but are ignorant about the violations of other people's basic human rights.

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  2. Michael says:

    Thanks for sharing, that was a great read.

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  3. Jon says:

    Can't make everybody happy.

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