Obama, Cuba & Baseball

There’re several ways to achieve one’s dream of making an MLB roster. Granted, it requires much more than just a dream. You’ll need a plethora of talent, self-discipline and determination just to make it to the minors. Baseball is a beautifully competitive sport that blankets the globe. With a finite number of roster spots going up against an almost endless sea of eager dreamers, it’s extremely hard to make it to the show. For players coming from Cuba, it has become a problem.

In fact, you have about a 1 in 200 chance of making it to a Major League roster if you were drafted out of college. Didn’t go to college and went straight from high school? Lower that chance to 1 out of 200. After that, it get’s even harder. The percentage of players that make it from high school to the minors to the majors is just a lowly .5%.
Sounds challenging, if not impossible, right? Now, imagine if you were born in Cuba. You’ve got the talent, the arm, and the dream. But now what? Ding, ding, ding. If you guessed “pay human traffickers to smuggle you out of Cuba and into the States”, please reward yourself with five points and a pat on the back.

It’s no secret America and Cuba haven’t been the best of pals for the last few decades and in turn, that has made it near impossible for Cuban-born athletes to play professionally. We’ve all heard the horror stories some of these athletes (and in some cases, teenagers) must go through just to get a chance to play ball.

Kevin Baxter of the LA Times wrote last year about the struggle of Dodger’s Yasiel Puig and what he went through for his shot at glory (paying up to $1.3 million to his smugglers). Or the story of Leony’s Martin and his family who were held at gunpoint and extorted before reaching the states. These aren’t just isolated incidents but most likely the norm for Cuban natives.

Not only is it dangerous but expensive as well. Actions that authorities took to curb Cuban defection ended up only making the process that much more treacherous. The boat ride from Cuba to Florida once cost a few thousand dollars. However, once a “black market” as Baxter describes it, rose from moving baseball players the price quickly rose to six figures. Eventually, smugglers were forced to change their tactics and smuggle players in via Mexico. This only increased the risk and expense as Cartels would need to be paid off to secure the right of passage and safety.

So, What’s Being Done?

President Obama Throws Out the First PitchYou can say what you want about the current administration. But there is no denying President Obama’s love for sports. Whether he’s courtside at an NBA game, hanging with the latest Super Bowl champs or explaining his March Madness bracket. The love is real

But what has he done for baseball?

Whether it’s his passion for sports or just a shrewd political maneuver, the Obama administration and Cuba have been talking baseball for the last few months. To make this even more tantalizing is the fact that the MLB has been  in on the talks as well.

Now, no one is quite sure on what exactly is being discussed. However, it was reported that Cuba asked Obama to exempt baseball players from J.F.K.’s trade embargo which prevents Americans from doing business in Cuba. Cuba also hopes that Obama will enable this exemption while allowing the players to still retain their status as a Cuban citizen.

If approved, it will be a historical moment and the start of a new beginning for America and Cuba. It would also enable Cuban-born talent to make the transition to the MLB cheaper and more importantly, safer.

Republican, Democrat or Independent. In this case, none of that matters as long as your a baseball fan.