Why the top Cuban leagues want to form ‘everyone’s dream team’ at World Baseball Classic

Cubans will come from Arizona and Florida, throw on the uniforms of the major league teams and wear nothing more patriotic. If their bold vision somehow became a reality, they would wear T-shirts with Cubanos on the chest, and wear hats with a vertical adaptation of the Cuban flag over the brim. Then they emerge from the LoanDepot Park tunnels in Miami, the site of the championship round for the next World Baseball Classic, a tournament the Cubans have long sought to conquer.

Yuli Gouriel And his younger brother, Lord Jr., will go out to sign bobbleheads with their trademark high-rise hairstyles. Jorge Solerwith his golden chain bouncing on his chest, he was conducting exercises outside. Yasmani Grandal Bend over into the barn, getting ready to catch the pitch Nestor Cortes as such Aroldis Chapman Viewing. Randy Arosarina He’ll flaunt his shoes of power and Jordan Alvarez He’ll stand confused, watching Adulis Garcia And the Guillermo Heredia Try to outdo each other in the right field.

Later, with drums and trumpets honking in her home city The largest population of Cubans in the countryfans were screaming in glee to watch former Patriots like them take the field together, at last.

“Imagine a team from Cuba full of all the talent and all the professional baseball players,” Rizel Iglesias He said about his countrymen in Spanish when contacted by phone last week. “Imagine a team of 26 players full of stars. That would be great.”

The idea is fraught with complications. For starters, Cuba is one of the 140 countries in the World Baseball Softball Federation, which sanction the WBC. Major League Baseball He may risk losing this designation if a team not affiliated with any national governing body is allowed to participate.

Earlier this year, a group of current and former Cuban players bravely teamed up with lawyers and men who made a living through computer software and journalism to form the Federation of Cuban Professional Baseball Players (ACPBP). Their goal: to have the world’s best Cuban players join the WBC, on a team independent of the roster the nation of Cuba plans to take part in when the sport’s premier international event returns next spring for the first time since 2017.

The group is preparing to file a petition with Major League Baseball and the WBSC. Although the association declined to comment, the first meeting between the two parties is scheduled for next week. This is when the association intends to officially present to the world what it referred to on its social media platforms as “Everyone’s Dream Team”.

In the previous four iterations of the World Baseball Classic, the nations have gathered some of their most promising talents and put them against the best lineups other countries can muster. But the two major Cuban leagues – the best players Cuba has offered – were not allowed to play with their homeland because they defected to play abroad without the consent of the Cuban Baseball Federation.

Few MLB players and activists who participated in previous tournaments did so before fleeing their country to play in the major tournaments. Only a fraction of the active players represented by the federation – a total of about 150, including 26 Cuban nationals who previously participated Featured in the major leagues this season – They had the opportunity to honor their heritage under the Cuban flag on the international stage.

Cubans, whether on the island or elsewhere, are excited about the prospect of their former stars joining the fold. Mario Fernandez, president of the ACPBP, said he has seen discussions about the composition of the list on social media. Fans love to argue about who should play third base. basics star Nolan Arenadowhose father is Cuban, may be an option over Yun Moncada. In the first rule, choices can include Jose Abreu And the Eric Hosmer. Another popular topic of discussion was deciding who would start on the hill in a match against the reigning champion United States.

With over 100 players supporting ACPBP, shortening the roster won’t be easy even for Orlando Hernandez, former Yankees A star named the team’s general manager, and MLB catcher Brayan Peña, commissioned him to serve as field manager.

The association’s leaders are still far from turning intellectual exercises into reality. Presumably they will need help from MLB, which runs WBC jointly with the Players’ Association. It can be a difficult task. Just a few years ago, MLB struck a deal with the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed players in the country to sign directly with major league teams through a publishing system similar to the one used by players from Japan and South Korea. she was Banned by the US government under President TrumpPolitics will almost certainly be part of any discussion about a team of ex-Cuban sponsors entering the WBC.

Although support for the League has been widespread among fans and players, the entity responsible for baseball in Cuba denounced their efforts in April. “The goals of the League are political, not sporting, and one of its first acts is … to usurp the place that rightly belongs to the Cuban national baseball team,” said Juan Reinaldo Pérez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, in a press release distributed to members of the state-run and other media outlets. in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.” The official was martyred WBSC . ​​Code It states that only recognized members “can choose their national team and have the exclusive right to represent the name of the country or territory, flag and colours”.

The Cuban Baseball League is also fighting the possibility Seeing the level of play in Cuba diminish even more. Although baseball is still dominant, the country’s national teams have not had success As they did earlier this century. Players who are looking for better ways for themselves and their families have been defecting from the country at a high rate for years. Cuba’s failure to qualify for the Tokyo Summer Olympics and the continued exodus of players responsible for qualification, particularly after At least nine players defected to the national team During his participation in the FIFA U-23 World Cup in Mexico last fall.

However, Fernandez, a former Cuban player who started a semi-professional baseball league in Chile in 2014, before moving to the United States in recent years, remains confident in his group’s ability to win their case for approval from the WBSC. The league cites both legal grounds – that the Cuban Baseball League discriminates against the top Cuban leagues because of their political views, which is a violation of WBSC Article 3.1 – There is a hunch that having a team from the two major Cuban leagues in WBC is the best for the sport.

“Everyone thinks this will be one of the best teams in history, if we put together this team,” Fernandez said. “It will compel everyone or invite everyone to do better.”

Iglesias has heard similar thoughts from players of other nationalities about the game. They marvel at the depth of the squad and “say things like, ‘Damn, we want to play against this great team. We want to compete with them. … They support us and say they hope our project will pay off and MLB will make the best decision and approve the project so that we can put together a team that can be as good as the world expects. And be able to deliver the expected spectacle of the World Baseball Classic.”

Iglesias auditioned for WBC firsthand in 2013, before splitting and signing with reds. Chapman, who also signed with the Reds after leaving Cuba, played in the tournament in 2009. He would like the opportunity to be reunited on the field with his fellow Cuban nationals, most of whom have not played together since their days in Cuba.

He thinks it would also be great for baseball fans to see a team of former Cuban stars gather.

“When you watch baseball in Cuba and see the quality of the play, you realize that it’s not a team that can properly represent Cuba against the world in the classic,” Chapman said in Spanish. “The level of playing in Cuba now is very low. The people in Cuba want to see those players who are here in the major leagues, those who are in the minor leagues and play (outside). They see what they are doing (outside our country) and they want these players to play in the Classic. “.

The only way for that to happen is through something like the Cubans. In April, the president of the state-run Cuban Baseball Association said in a press conference that it would allow top two leagues to join the national team, regardless of how they left the country. But Fernandez sees the chance that the player who defected will play for the Cuban team in the WBC.

Instead of trying to get into what would become a messy battle with the Cuban Baseball League over naming rights, the league created its own logo with a modification of the Cuban flag and named its prospective team “The Cubanos.” The name is celebrated Havana sugar kingsa Cuba-based minor league team that started in 1946 as a member of the lower-level Florida International League under the name “The Cubans” before serving as an affiliate team for Triple-A from 1953 to 1961.

“We’re all over the world,” Fernandez said of the Cubans. “We want to represent us all.”

Seeing players wearing a T-shirt bearing the name Cubanos would almost certainly pass on to the Cuban diaspora that the players and coaches want to support.

Curtis, the Yankees’ left-hand man, is one of dozens of players in the association’s group chat. He left Cuba legally as an infant with his mother and father, who won the visa lottery. They settled in Hialeah, the part of the Miami area where in 2019 nearly 50 percent of foreign-born residents were Cuban. He is not personally familiar with the challenges other Cubans have overcome at the major tournaments but he does have a solid understanding of their plight. He thinks his parents will enjoy him to join them in the field.

“They know how much I love the island and the country,” Curtis said. “I feel like they would have loved to play as I grew up there and had that experience as well.”

Hosmer, whose mother fled Cuba when she was a child, played for the United States in both the 2013 and 2017, WBCs, and wrote in a text message that his family members would “certainly be honored” if he had a chance to represent Cuba. He noted that his grandfather was showing him videos of young Kendris Morales, who spent the first three years of his career in the Cuban national series before coming to the United States in 2005. After Morales joined Hosmer. Royals In the lead-up to their 2015 world title, two occasional video messages were taped to Hosmer’s grandfather. “He would have loved it,” Hosmer wrote.

In a separate message, Arenado said: “Cuba deserves to have its best players play for their country.” He played for the United States at WBC 2017.

“It’s all about our professional baseball players representing our people in exile… and showing them that we’re in this together,” Peña said. “We are one heart and one soul.

“My people are in exile, we suffer a lot. We go through a lot of things. We have to go through a lot of family separation and grief and a lot of things that not many people understand that we are going through. (It’s important) for us to be there for our people in exile, To make sure they know there is an organization that represents them, to make sure they know there is a group of professional baseball players who occupy our hearts and their pain is our pain.”

It will be determined whether ACPBP will have this opportunity in the coming weeks. Iglesias hopes a full solution will be found within a month. A decision in July will give Peña and Hernandez sufficient leeway to build up the group’s first roster, which could also include Cuban players who play in Mexico, South Korea and Japan. The extra time will also allow them to ensure that everyone committed to participating in WBC is able to train together during at least part of the off-season.

Until then, social media is debating which of the Cubans will play the situation that will heat up. Fernandez didn’t have it the other way around.

“They don’t have options. They have baseball,” he said. “So it’s really important to them. We want to do it for the Cuban people.”

(Top image by Jorge Soler: Bob Levey/Getty Images)