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MLB in Cuba stirs up controversy amid celebration

By Sunny Cadwallader - Mar 23, 2016

It’s complicated.

Ask many a Cuban-American their thoughts on Tuesday’s MLB game in Havana and that would sum up their answer.

It’s complicated.

The script for Tuesday’s game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba seemed anything but complicated on the field. The grass was green, the infield was dirt, colors were flying, anthems were sung, President and Mrs. Obama were in attendance alongside other dignitaries including Commissioner Rob Manfred and a Castro or two - it resembled all the pomp and circumstance of any other high-profile MLB event.

But, it wasn’t.

This game in Cuba, while high-profile, was unlike any other MLB event. History made sure of that. As ESPN’s Dan LeBatard, son of Cuban exiles, stated,

“...you'll forgive us if we aren't much in the mood to play ball with a dictator who still has the blood of our people on his hands, no matter how much ESPN and Obama and Jeter dress it up.”

When discussing Cuba, no matter if it’s baseball or politics, it always comes back to Castro. Watching the game on TV, one can’t help but think of Fidel. Of Raul. Of Jorge. Or anyone else associated with the Castro regime. We saw it here:

We heard it leading up to and during the broadcast about the “hand-picked crowd” in the stadium. They cheered when they were supposed to (think “Raul, Raul” cheers) - politely or muted when necessary (think Dayron Verona’s introduction). It was everything the Cuban government could have hoped for minus a Cuba victory, of course.

Even then, it’s still complicated. The current government has not buckled in the face of an embargo, the fall of Communism nor their near-isolation in this world. Human rights issues long ignored has given rise to the human trafficking trade. The Cuban people suffer in ways few can imagine here in America.

Still, however, there were some who held onto a sliver of hope of real change.

“For this game to have that kind of social impact, governments and political figures need to use diplomacy to address the numerous and obvious issues at hand,” wrote ESPN’s Jorge Sedano.

To borrow a current March Madness term, this event cannot be a one-and-done. Change will not happen simply because President Obama attended a Rays game in Havana. Change won’t happen solely because of a few photo ops. Obama or whomever our next president is,

MLB, media, fans, exiles, immigrants - everyone will need to continue to pressure the Cuban government for change. Positive change that benefits the Cuban people directly.

“The world changes,” former major leaguer Luis Tiant told Fox Sports about his homeland. “We have to change it.”

Even then...change is complicated.

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