Cubans Still Waiting to See their Own

TV broadcasts exclude games with Cubans in the Major Leagues

By Ronal Quiñones

Odrisamer Despaigne in his San Diego Padre uniform. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Some months ago, we heard some of the concerns of baseball aficionados in Havana who expressed their wish to see Major League games on Cuban television.

Two popular segments have been aired by Cuba’s sports channel, Tele Rebelde, since the close of last year: Beisbol Internacional (“International Baseball”), which brings viewers the latest baseball news from around the world, and Besibol de siempre (“Old School Baseball”), which focuses on past and classic games. The two are televised only once a week, though, on occasion, a Major League game is aired on a weekday to fill a nightly spot.

Thus Cuban baseball aficionados can now watch MLB games, infrequently and selectively, to be sure, and their demands have not yet been satisfied. In search of opinions, we returned to Havana’s well-known Parque Central, where, every day – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a workday or holiday, hot or cold, rainy or sunny – aficionados gather to talk about sports, most particularly baseball, the great passion of Cubans.

Our first question was whether they felt satisfied with finally being able to watch Major League games on TV, after more than 40 years of waiting.

“Look, it’s better than nothing,” says German, a self-employed vender. “But the truth is that we’re most interested in is being able to see Cubans play, as we did when Alfredo Despaigne was in Mexico, or now that other Cuban players are in Japan. I love baseball, but it’s hard to follow the Major Leagues when you only get to see one game a week.”

Baseball talk in Havana’s Parque Central. Photo: Juan Suárez

Rolando, who believes all sports programs need to follow the series more closely, agrees with him. “Radio Rebelde is the only radio station that brings you up to date. They even comment on live games. But that’s only in the afternoon segment, and many people are working at that time. On TV, they only tell you how the teams are doing on Sundays. It’s hard to learn the names of the players when all they show you are some plays.”

“To begin with, the games are broadcast in English,” Mauro interjects. “If you don’t know much English, you’re left in the dark and sometimes can’t even make out the names of the players. Needless to say, if one of the outstanding players is Cuban, they don’t put him on TV. I’ve often noticed that among the top ten plays of the week, the fifth, fourth or seventh is missing, and friends of mine who get cable then tell me those were by Cuban players.”

Such decisions, like nearly all that are made in Cuban television, are reviewed by Danilo Sirio, president of the National Radio and Television Institute (ICRT), who, in order not to get into trouble with his superiors at the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, or following direct instructions from these, decides to deny aficionados at home the satisfaction of seeing the country’s best players in the United States.

“I think that’s the show’s main problem,” says Yander, “they wrack their brains looking for that one game without any Cuban players that they can air! And it’s becoming more and more difficult for them, what with the number of Cubans now playing in the Major Leagues. We’re always seeing the same teams, and when they show the Dodgers or the Athletics, it’s because Yasiel Puig and Yoennis Cespedes can’t play because they’ve been penalized, were injured or are on vacation.”

“That’s right,” says Basilio. “The home-run derby for the last two years (won both times by Cespedes) will never be shown in Cuba. Last year, they showed an old one, and, until there are no Cubans participating, we won’t be seeing a new one. This year, there were five Cubans in the MLB All-Stars Game. Needless to say, we won’t be seeing that game here either.”

That was the most recurrent complaint and cause of dissatisfaction heard at the park, venue of Havana’s baseball aficionados.

Not long ago Erisbel Arruebarrena was the best shortstop in the Cuban league and on the national team. Photo:

“It’s incomprehensible,” Mauro charges again, “if you’re going to show the week’s highlights, you have to show everything, no matter where the player is from. What’s worse, it seems someone here spoke with Telesur, and now, when a Cuban player is mentioned on that channel, they don’t tell you he’s Cuban. Before, we could find out about plays on a daily basis there, but, as of a few months ago, it seems their policy changed, because they either omit them or don’t tell you where the player is from. They mention where all Latin American players are from, save for Cubans.

Gerardo interjects at that moment, addressing an interesting issue having to do with the programming.

“I don’t know about you, but I see some irregularities in the programming policy. The baseball history program does talk about Cubans, all Cubans. There, they’ve talked about Luis Tiant, Bert Campeneris, Tany Perez and others. So, I don’t see why they can’t talk about today’s players abroad. At one point, they were the “unnamable traitors”, and now they’re not, as it should be. We, the fans, have never considered them traitors, nor do we consider those who today decide to try their luck in the Major Leagues traitors. To the contrary, we’re proud to have them represent Cuban baseball with so much dignity.”

“That’s exactly right,” Maikel says in support of his comments. “People in the United States hadn’t spoken so highly of Cuban players for a long time. The thing is, there were very few of them years ago. Today there are more, and we shouldn’t forget that, if it weren’t for US laws, there’d be many more. Look at what happened with Alfredo Despaigne. He got through the first year [in the MLB affiliated Mexican League], but they didn’t let him play the second, because what they want is for him to permanently leave the country.”

“I don’t criticize anyone who makes that decision. What I don’t understand is that they should work so hard to look for the games that are ultimately the least attractive for us. The hosts of the shows themselves, and even those at Radio Rebelde, tell us it’s not their decision. Sometimes, they ask aficionados to ask what they want to see via email, so that they may reply that way, but not on the air. So, what is going on here?” Leandro asks himself.

The sports corner of Parque Central, Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

“The same thing that’s been going on forever, bud.” Charly replies, “Politics. The people who make those decisions aren’t thinking about viewers but about keeping their jobs. They don’t care about what people want to see. They care about keeping their privileges and staying out of trouble. It’s always been like that and I don’t know how long things will continue this way.”

“We have no other choice but to continue waiting and asking for things to change wherever we can,” Dario points out. “Though it doesn’t look like it, they’re aware of our dissatisfaction and they’re loosening the screws little by little. We’ve already got Major League games. Perhaps we’ll soon be seeing the day in which they realize no one’s going to overthrow the government because of this, and that what they have to do is simply take better care of the baseball players that are still in Cuba.”

“I agree,” Charly says. “They continue to complicate things, knowing that what everyone here wants is to live a little better. If they don’t pay players what they deserve, they leave the country – no one can put a stop to that. At one point, we’ll stop seeing Major League games altogether because they won’t be able to find a game without a Cuban player in it, not even with a miscroscope.”

This is a summary of what we hard during our brief sojourn in Cuba’s most famous baseball aficionado venue. As we can appreciate, the fans continue to be displeased. We can only hope these complaints will be a thing of the past the next time when we visit Parque Central, and that all of Cuba will soon be able to see their favorites play anywhere in the world.

3 thoughts on “Cubans Still Waiting to See their Own

  • Griffin and Moses, people like us make a big error by applying analytical logic to the actions of the Castro family regime. There is no logic, there is only the drive to keep the population under control whilst they develop their economic fiefdom. They are happy to see Cubans leave their homeland, it makes life easier for them. But they don’t want those remaining to even glimpse the better standard of living that the departed have achieved. Sorry it took me 9 days to add this.

  • It’s a shame Cuban are prevented by their government tom seeing MLB games in which Cuban ball players are playing.

    Jose Abreu is a runaway favourite for Rookie of the Year, with 32 home runs and 90 RBI’s for the Chicago White Sox. His teammate Alexei Ramirez is doing well, too.

    Yoennis Cespedes was recently traded to the Boston Red Sox, a big surprise. Yasiel Puig is batting .309 with an OPS of .900 , only slightly off his stats from last year. In may ways, this is a golden era for Cuban players in the MLB.

  • A silly, juvenile, ridiculous, paranoid, absurd, asinine (and so on) political policy regarding something as non-political as baseball. The Castros can ruin anything if given enough time. I would love for sycophants like Walter Teague to defend this policy. Come on Walter, grow a pair and justify the national security threat to Cuba with watching Cubans in the US play baseball.

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