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April 8, 2016

The Tampa Bay Rays game against Cuba has got me thinking about the role that sports plays in international relations, and the outcome of the game was highly encouraging.

Sure, the Rays won, but that wasn’t really the point. The game was the first time that Cuban MLB players got to play for their team in front of their families and friends. The White Sox covered Jose Abreu’s journey back home, but he still will not be able to have his family watch, and his story isn’t uncommon.

Most Cuban players, if not all of them, were in a situation in which they could not return home when they entered the league. Many overcame serious hazards in order to get the opportunity to play baseball, including leaving their entire families behind. Defecting was a painful process, but was necessary to play at the highest level.

Due to less stringent labor rules announced by the Obama administration last month, Cuban workers will finally be allowed to work for American companies without defecting. For Cuban ballplayers, this is a chance to finally play without having to leave everything behind.

The opening of contracting to Cuban players and the reestablishment of commercial flights to Cuba offers an opportunity for hundreds, if not thousands, of baseball hopefuls.

I do not purport to know what this means for baseball. Maybe more Cuban talent will come through the ranks, meaning better baseball. Maybe there will be more big-contract busts, like the run of Japanese talent that was grossly overpaid through the middle ‘00s.

Maybe this means that there will be fewer of the talent and labor abuses that were the focus of the 2011 documentary: Pelotero. Any of those things would be fine. All of them are possible.

But this isn’t about baseball. Sure, it’s great that the players get to play at the highest levels. But the biggest thing is that they get to remain a Cuban citizen.

I really don’t care all that much about what the changes in rules do for baseball. It’s already a great sport, and a part of the fabric of what we consider American.

But imagine how the people of Cuba would feel to watch Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, and Aroldis Chapman be a part of their national team. Imagine these players getting to go home and play the sport they love in front of the people they love.

This is no longer about America. It is about the pride of Cuban players, citizens who want to see their heroes and family members, and being on the right side of history.

Anthony Adams
Sports Columnist

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