President Barack Obama may have proposed normalizing relations with Cuba, but with only small changes in place so far, Major League Baseball is still researching exactly what can happen with teams and players.
The changes made by the Obama administration are very modest; it would an act of Congress to drop further restrictions on travel and trade, and there is proposed legislation that could, say, allow a Major League Baseball team to play an exhibition in, say Gran Stadium. (Gran Stadium is one of the great old ballparks of Havana. Check out John Moist’s account of his Cuban baseball travels.) There are reports the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox have made inquiries about playing an exhibition game in Cuba, and we’re guessing there are a few others interested. Take the aforementioned Gran Stadium: It opened in 1946, and the following year hosted Brooklyn Dodgers spring training; the Pittsburgh Pirates would hold 1953 spring training there as well.
But with the exact travel rules still to be worked out, it looks like the earliest we could see a Cuban exhibition game is 2016. From ABC News:
Major League Baseball is in talks with federal agencies to determine how the policy change impacts professional baseball. Specifically, baseball wants to figure out how the new regulations and rules apply to baseball as a business, a spokesman with Major League Baseball told ABC News….
Although rumors of “diamond diplomacy” have surfaced recently, officials must figure out how recent rule changes apply to Major League Baseball before any type of game could be discussed, as the league couldn’t even send equipment to Cuba under the old rules, a spokesman for MLB said today.
The league is not aware of any teams setting an exhibition match, as they’d have to get permission first.
When President Obama announced the travel changes, there was a lot of excitement about about American professional baseball returning to Cuba. Since then, the excitement was tempered with some basic facts about doing business in Cuba. MLB teams aren’t interested in making a lot of money playing at Gran Stadium: they’re interested in pushing their brand in order to woo Cuban talent. And Cuba isn’t exactly a gold mine in terms of Minor League Baseball doing business — the average income is $5,890.
RELATED STORIES: Shuckers wooing Cuban teams for exhibitions