Cuba Gets Surprise Visit from Ken Griffey Jr. & Barry Larkin

by Adrián Romero  (Café Fuerte)

Barry Larkin (l) and Ken Griffey Jr. in Havana.
Barry Larkin (l) and Ken Griffey Jr. in Havana.  Photo: Raul Popo/cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, two former stars of Major League Baseball, surprisingly landed Saturday in Havana and toured the city to the joy of Cuban fans.

The visitors toured areas of historic Old Havana and were honored in the city’s Central Park, where they signed autographs and caused a rage among fans that the all-stars had never imagined.

The makeshift reception in Central Park was recorded by photographer Raul Pupo for Cubadebate.cu.

Griffey Jr, 44, and Larkin, 50, arrived Saturday to explore baseball on the island. They will visit training areas, donate sports equipment and expect to hold meetings with officials from the Cuban Baseball Federation, said a member of their group.

The trip was organized by Educational Travel Alliance, an organization that promotes people to people contacts, authorized by the administration of Barack Obama since 2011. The group also includes a former star women’s softball player from the United States.

Fidel Castro’s son Antonio has spoken in favor of establishing normal relations with MLB.

Approaching the Major Leagues

On Monday the former stars are scheduled to attend a reception at the residence of the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, John Caulfield, an enthusiastic promoter of baseball and who has previously hosted meetings with Cuban and American players visiting the island.

Larkin and Griffey Jr.  will remain in Cuba until next Thursday.

The visit comes at a time when expectations are growing on the inclusion of Cuban players in professional leagues. Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro and Vice President of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), has pronounced in favor of establishing relations with the big leagues to normalize the integration of players from the island to the best baseball in the world.

An interview with Antonio Castro will be posted on February 17 in ESPN magazine, in an issue devoted to Cuban baseball and with Yasiel Puig on the cover. Puig, who escaped from the island in 2012 is now a star of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a US $ 42 million contract.

In a conversation with reporter Paula Lavigne, held last September in Havana, Castro said he favors allowing Cuban players who now play in the big leagues to also do so with the national team in the near future.

A meeting of Larkin and Griffey Jr. with Antonio Castro is considered a possibility during their stay in the Cuban capital.

Coverage in the Cuban Media

Griffey (white T-shirt) and Larkin were surprized to see they had so many fans in Cuba.
Griffey (white T-shirt) and Larkin were surprized to see they had so many enthusiastic fans in Cuba.  Photo: Raul Popo/cubadebate.cu

So far the official Cuban press has not reported the visit, except the Cubadebate website [which cannot be seen by the vast majority of the population] that curiously ran this Sunday a “sports commentary” by a familiar official press signature, Enrique Ubieta, stating that “the return of Cuba to professional scenes is not a victory, but instead a momentary defeat.”

Griffey Jr. played 22 seasons in the majors. His numbers recorded a career batting average of .284, with 2,781 hits, 630 homers and 1,836 RBIs. He was an exceptional outfielder and if that stats aren’t even more impressive it was because of injuries. He retired in 2010, and nobody doubts he will be voted into the Hall of Fame.

Larkin is already a member of the Hall of Fame since 2012, after playing 18 seasons in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds (1986-2004). He was on the Big Red Machine that won the 1990 World Series. He coincided with Griffey Jr. on the Reds in the seasons from 2000 to 2004, and the two maintain a solid friendship.

The spectacular Reds shortstop retired with a .295 batting average, 2,340 hits, 198 homers and 960 RBIs.

Last year, Larkin was the manager of Brazil’s team in the Third World Baseball Classic in Taiwan and Japan. On that occasion Larkin spoke with the director of the Cuban team, Victor Mesa, and expressed his willingness to visit the island.


16 thoughts on “Cuba Gets Surprise Visit from Ken Griffey Jr. & Barry Larkin

  • February 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm
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    I love Cuba. I dislike the Castros. At least a million Cuban exiles feel exactly the way I do. What you smell is cheap deodorant. One can respect and even admire other cultures and at the same time abhor the lack of basic human rights like freedom of speech, assembly and to bring redress against your government. None of these exists in Cuba. How does that smell to you?

  • February 16, 2014 at 1:43 pm
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    Why can i smell certain hate in your words against cuba? Don’t you think that democracy is also respect different cultures and ways of thinking?

  • February 11, 2014 at 9:36 pm
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    That’s John’s tongue in Raul’s cheek, to be sure. Kissing totalitarian ass is his passion.

  • February 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm
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    You are a very special Cain of stupid aren’t you ?
    How is that “They are a threat to our national security just as every man, woman and child in Cuba is “, where you get this moronic idea ?

  • February 11, 2014 at 8:03 am
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    anyone who wants to nuke cuba is an idiot.

  • February 11, 2014 at 7:43 am
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    You sound like those who say they had to bomb the vilage out of existence to save it. There are thousands of Chinese students in american universities and we havent seen one act of sabotage. Wake up to the new century. The only acts of terrorism have been the Cuban groups in Miami who have bombed hotels in Havana. They should be all send to prison. You and the tea party will never take over our country.
    T

  • February 11, 2014 at 7:40 am
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    We have free travel and trade with China and Vietnam and this has benefited the people of those countries as well as the US. Cuba is gradually liberalizing and allowing more private enterprise. The embargo of more than 50 years has failed and it is time to join the rest of the civilized world in allowing unrestricted travel and trade with Cuba. Cuba doesnt wish to have massage parlors, strip clubs and brothels and we should respect that. Cuban players in the US should be allowed to send any amount of money they wish back to Cuba for investment and assistance of family members. They are not in danger of being kidnapped as are the Venezuelans. We should also end the designation of Cuba as a terrorist country.

  • February 10, 2014 at 6:31 pm
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    What’s really scary is that there are the commenters who think he’s funny. Aaaargh! There are more of them out there!

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