From left to right, Tony Clark, Dave Winfield, Joe Torre and Dan Halem offered their opinions on exchanges between the MLB and Cuba. Photo: Jose M. Correa

In the context of the good will visit made by Major League Baseball (MLB), the organization announced its intention to promote and encourage exchanges which will see players based in Cuba travel to the U.S. to play in the county’s baseball leagues.

How does this proposal work given that in order to play in the Major Leagues, Cuban athletes are required to sign a statement of permanent residence outside of Cuba which reads: “I have taken up permanent residence outside of Cuba. In addition, I hereby state that I do not intend to, nor would I be welcome to, return to Cuba. Further, I hereby state that I am not a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba … and am not a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party”?

This was the question put by Granma to senior officials of theMLB delegation who held a press conference on talks regarding an academic exchange program being held with the Cuban Baseball Federation through December 17.

Dan Halem, MLB vice president and chief legal officer, responded noting that the aim of the organization’s Commissioner, Rob Manfred, and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is to create a safe and legal system for the normal flow of players between Cuba and the United States, and that negotiations will take place in accordance with the laws of each respective country, but that the cooperation of both governments is required.

Regarding these issues, Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, reiterated that ensuring the players’ wellbeing is the top priority, however, the creation of an exchange system will require a strong negotiation process, hard work and cooperation from both parties.

Joe Torre, MLB director of operations and Dave Winfield, MLBPA special assistant, accompanied by several active players: Nelson Cruz from the Dominican Republic; Miguel Cabrera of Venezuela; Cubans Alexei Ramírez, Yasiel Puig, Brayan Peña and José Dariel Abreu; Cuban-American Jon Jay, and Clayton Kershaw from the U.S.; also spoke to the press in the Hotel Nacional’s famous Vedado Hall.

Also addressed during the conference was the prospect of a Major League team coming to play pre-season games on the island. Halem noted that the delegation is optimistic about the opportunity, and wants to play friendly games in Cuba, adding that Tampa Bay has already been selected to come to the island, although no official agreement or decision has been reached, as talks with Cuba’s National Baseball Federation and government in order to settle logistical issues are still underway.

For his part, Tony Clark explained that the level of baseball has increased worldwide, a key point of interest for the MLB, which, he noted, must learn how baseball is played in other countries, including Cuba, with the visit proving the perfect opportunity to do so.

Responding to a final question regarding the MLB’s position on the World Series trophies and prize money Cuba has won but been unable to claim, Dan Halem stated that this is a legal issue and the organization has been prevented from paying out winnings due to restrictive U.S. laws.

One of the most questioned figures during the dialogue was Joe Torre, Baseball Hall of Fame star, outstanding player and award-winning manager, who expressed his gratitude for having been invited to this “beautiful country” and excitement regarding the exchange. “Like music, baseball is a universal language. In Cuba, love and passion for baseball is palpable, which is why we have come here to work with the kids and offer our friendship,” he stated.

At the beginning of the conference Clark thanked Antonio Castro, vice president of the FCB, the organization itself and INDER for their role in making the exchange possible, whilst also acknowledging the disposition of the players participating on the delegation.

Designated hitter Nelson Cruz from the Dominican Republic expressed his joy at visiting in Cuba for the first time and being able to contribute to bringing countries together through baseball. Miguel Cabrera, the first Major League batter to win a Triple Crown, noted that Cuba is historically one of the strongest teams in the Caribbean. The Venezuelan Detroit Tigers slugger also added that “Cuba’s impact is notable, the country participates in the World Series, achieving good results, and in the Caribbean Series, which they’ve already won this year, lending prestige to the event, and giving it an extremely high level.”

Clayton Kershaw, left-handed pitcher and three times winner of the Cy YoungAward, the highest accolade a pitcher can win in a single season, noted that after only a few hours in Cuba he was able to see the passion and enthusiasm of locals for the sport. “They love the game, they must really enjoy the games on the field and I’m so excited for the opportunity to share with the guys on the pitch,” he said.

On December 16 and 17, the MLB offered baseball training to children in Havana’s Latinoamericano Stadium, and the Victoria de Girón stadium in Matanzas, respectively. Both events were free of charge and open to the public. Clark concluded by noting that the MLB and MLBPA aim to promote the development of the sport with such activities representing an extension of this commitment. He also described the importance of baseball as a unifying force, and expressed his hope that the delegation’s visit will lead to further exchanges.