Daniel García Marco (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Major League Baseball authorities are closely following the agreement reached by Cuba and the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations, though the embargo will continue to prevent Cuban baseball players from reaching the league in a normal, straightforward way.
“MLB is closely following the White House announcement,” the US League declared Wednesday through a communiqué, adding it did not have enough details about the decision to offer an assessment.
Though there is now greater freedom to travel to Cuba and see how a Cuban player performs on the field, a license from the US Treasury Department is still needed to sign players. The other alternative is fleeing the island through a third country and declaring oneself free, so as to be signed and reside in the United States.
The way to the United States often involves groups of traffickers who are paid considerable sums by players, in anticipation of a million-dollar contracts with the Major Leagues.
Cuban baseball players rarely share the details of these adventures. Yasiel Puig, now playing for the Angeles Dodgers and whose arrival in the United States is being investigated by Miami courts and whose experiences could well be the subject of a film, is a case in point.
A Hollywood production house bought the rights of the shocking tale published by the Los Angeles Magazine, where we learned that, following several failed attempts, Puig left Cuba with the help of traffickers who work for a dangerous Mexican drug cartel, who transported him to the Yucatan Peninsula on a speedboat.
A delay in a payment by the baseball player’s sponsor prompted the cartel to keep Puig prisoner for 20 days.
Two people have already pled guilty to having conspired to take Puig out of the island and introducing him into the United States.
Despite the measures announced by President Barack Obama, the commercial and financial embargo, in effect since 1961, can only be lifted by Congress, something not likely to occur any time soon.
Puig is only one of 25 Cuban-born players who played in the season that closed in October.
Many of them have signed important contracts, as US teams tend to regard Cuba as one of the greatest reservoir of baseball talents.
The last to leave the island and reach the Major Leagues is Yasmany Tomas, who has just signed a six-year 68.5-million-dollar contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Tomas, who has just turned 24, left Cuba in June following in the footsteps of other Cuban baseball stars like Puig, Jose Fernandez, Jose Abreu or Rusney Castillo. He travelled to Haiti and then to the Dominican Republic, where he trained for four months. After receiving permission from the US Treasury Department in September, he was able to try out for the Major Leagues.
Tomas did not break the record in terms of the value of a first contract signed by an international player, held by his compatriot Rusney Castillo, who, in August, signed a 72.5-million-agreement with the Boston Red Sox.
In coming days or weeks, Major League teams are expected to finalize the hiring of Yoan Moncada and Andy Ibañez, other Cuban baseball players who left the island in search of success in the United States.
The Cuban government has already authorized the island’s baseball players to enter into contracts with Mexican and Japanese teams, provided they pay a tax over their earnings.
Having fled the country to the United States bars players from playing again on Cuba’s nationa lteam, something that has undermined the performance of the island’s once powerful team.
Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro a leader of the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) has asked that Cuban baseball players who left the country illegally and joined the Big Leagues to be allowed to play in Cuba’s selection.
“We have to play both sides, we have to be realistic – we have to do something for our players. It’s not good for the athletes, their families or anyone. We are losing those players. They’re not allowed to play on Cuba’s team again, why?” Castro, son of Cuba’s former leader, asked during an interview about Cuban baseball broadcast by ESPN in October of 2013.