Barack Obama Discusses MLB Exhibition Game in Cuba in ESPN Exclusive

President Barack Obama wrote an exclusive article for on his trip to Cuba to watch the Tampa Bay Rays face the Cuban national team Tuesday at Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano, the first exhibition game between an MLB and Cuban team in 17 years.

The president elaborated on the basis for the visit and what it might mean for American and Cuban relations going forward:

That’s what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we’ve broken—as people and as nations—and looking toward a better future. Because while I will not ignore the important differences between our governments, I came to Cuba to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.

They’re the reason I cast off the failed, Cold War-era policy that left so many Cubans in conflict, exile and poverty in favor a new course. They’re why our governments are now cooperating on health and education initiatives. They’re why we’re helping families connect by restoring direct commercial flights and mail service. And they’re why we’re expanding commercial ties and increasing the capacity of Americans to travel to do business in Cuba.

These steps, and my visit here this week, are just small steps in a long road ahead. But I believe the American people and the Cuban people can make this journey as friends, as family and, yes, as baseball fans. Play ball!

As the president noted in his article, one common love between citizens of the United States and Cuba is baseball:

One of the things we share is our national pastimes—la pelota. As the quote from “Field of Dreams” goes, “the one constant through all the years … has been baseball.” That’s as true in America as it is in Cuba. Whether it’s the middle of an Iowa cornfield or the neighborhoods of Havana, our landscapes are dotted with baseball diamonds. Our kids grow up learning to run the bases and count balls and strikes. And many of our greatest ballplayers have taken the field together.

That fact certainly makes the staging of a baseball game a powerful symbol of diplomacy between the two nations.

As noted, President Obama arrived to a standing ovation.

The president also spoke about the impact Cuban players have had on the history of baseball, and he noted that Jackie Robinson played at Estadio Latinoamericano in 1947, before he broke the color barrier. He noted that along with his wife, Michelle Obama, and two girls, Robinson’s wife, Rachel, and their daughter, Sharon, would be joining them at the game.

The contest also comes at a time when Major League Baseball is working with the Cuban and United States governments on a proposal that would allow MLB teams to directly sign Cuban players. To this point, Cuban baseball players have had to defect and hire smugglers to help them reach the United States—a dangerous process.

There have been varied feelings on the game being staged in Cuba and the president’s presence in the country, however. Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald—the son of Cuban exiles—wrote about the horrors his family experienced at the hands of the Cuban government and the pain his parents, and many other Cuban exiles, were feeling.

In particular, he noted that for many exiles, the game and the president’s visit would only truly matter if real change was a byproduct of the exhibition:

The embargo didn’t work. I get it. America does a lot of business with dictators. I get it. And my parents aren’t close-minded, heartless or blinded by unreasonable rage. They’d be all for normalized relations with Cuba if it meant helping, you know, the citizens of Cuba. And maybe this will. Or maybe it won’t. But why would my parents trust a communist government built atop a lifetimes of lies?

It’s a question many Cuban exiles and Cuban citizens are probably asking Tuesday. For the president and those who helped to organize this game, the hope will be that this is the first step in both improved relations between the two countries and a greater emphasis on human rights for the Cuban citizens.


You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

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