57 years in the making: Baseball reunion with Cuba

Sports writer Gabriella Bermudez. Photo credit: George Johnston

Sports writer Gabriella Bermudez. Photo credit: George Johnston

Growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve attended more than my fair share of San Francisco Giants’ home games. Watching baseball is nothing new to me, but this past week something extraordinary happened in the world of the sport closest to my heart.

Castro, Bay of Pigs and a damned good ham sandwich are all things that come to mind when we think about Cuba. Tensions have always been high with this Caribbean nation, but despite our differences we both share a common passion: our national pastime, baseball.

On March 22, for the second time in 57 years, an American MLB team played an exhibition game against the Cuban National Baseball team on Cuban soil.

The Tampa Bay Rays battled against the Cuban National team eventually resulting in a final victory of 4-1. Watching in the audience were not only celebrities such as Jimmy Buffett and Derek Jeter, but Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years.

Not only is this a touching example of seeing two different cultures come together, but it’s a symbol that bonds Americans and Cubans despite decades of isolation.

A love of baseball is nothing new to Cubans just as it isn’t new for most of the Caribbean. Having family originally from Puerto Rico, I grew up with a strong appreciation for the sport just as my father had. Names like Roberto Clemente were holy in my household.

Whenever I vacationed in Puerto Rico to visit family I never had to look too far to see some neighborhood boy with a stick in one hand and a ball in the other running around a makeshift diamond chasing a dream.

Since 1959, about 100 Cuban players have represented MLB clubs, four of which have been enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Since 1992, Cuba has won three Olympic gold medals in baseball. Before the strained relations that arose between our two nations, several MLB teams used Cuba as a prime location for spring training.

In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers, including Jackie Robinson, spent spring training in Havana. Before he broke the color barrier, which changed baseball history forever, Robinson took the field at the famed Estadio Latinoamericano for exhibitions against both American and Cuban teams — the same field where this historic reunion took place.

Baseball in itself is only a sport. All you need is a bat, a ball and spirit. But for me, and surely for the players that took the field on March 22, baseball is a dream. Baseball brings people together. It’s a dream held by the poverty-ridden children of Havana to the suburbia blessed children of America.

Beyond a game, March 22 was a step in the right direction for the future relations of our two governments. I believe that in time the Cuban and American people will come together not only as baseball fans, but as friends and allies. But enough about politics.


Gabriella Bermudez can be reached at [email protected] or @gabbybermudez2 on Twitter.