28 Mar 1999: The Baltimore Orioles and the Cuba National Team pause under the flags for the national anthems before taking the field at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havanna, Cuba. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Stockman/ALLSPORT

MLB and ESPN to broadcast game in cuba in March

With relations between the United States and Cuba normalized, Major League Baseball will travel to one of the most baseball-crazy countries in the world for a game in March, Dan Le Batard indicated on his radio show Friday.

Le Batard, who was unsure whether the plan to play in Cuba had been announced publicly, said he and his family have been invited by ESPN and MLB to return to the island from which his parents were exiled decades ago to help broadcast the game.

In November, Major League Baseball held a lottery and selected the Tampa Bay Rays as the team to potentially play in Cuba, likely in Havana against the Cuban national team, The New York Times reported. As of December 15, nothing had been finalized but MLB officials were “cautiously optimistic,” according to The Tampa Bay Times.

Le Batard did not make clear whether the game he was invited to was an exhibition or regular-season game, but he seems to have been referring to the previously rumored preseason game.

An MLB team last played in Cuba in 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles faced the Cuban national team. According to The New York Times, in October MLB sent officials to determine whether the main stadium in Havana could handle a game and concluded the venue needed work.

It makes sense that after President Obama reopened relations with Cuba MLB jumped at the opportunity to target a market full of fans and promising players. Recent years have seen a large influx of Cuban players to American professional baseball, including stars Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Jose Fernandez and more.

From The New York Times:

Taking his cue from the Obama administration, Manfred has made strengthening baseball’s bonds with Cuba a top priority. His top lawyer, Dan Halem, has been working with the administration and the Cuban government to come up with ways for Cuban players to join major league teams in an orderly fashion, rather than by fleeing Cuba in sometimes dangerous boat journeys or by defecting during international tournaments.

And if Cuban players were eventually able to sign with teams under a system supervised by Major League Baseball, the hope would be that the players and their families would be given visas so they could travel between the countries.

Obama administration and baseball officials have said they have been given some indications from Cuban authorities of a willingness to send their best players to the major leagues. Some experts on Cuba remain skeptical, however, that the Cuban policy will change in the foreseeable future.

Le Batard presented a pretty compelling counter-point to the conventional wisdom that the U.S. (and baseball) is right to open its arms to Cuba, saying the normalized relations have been painful to his family. The radio host said his mother does not want to go on the MLB trip to Cuba and that if she won’t go neither will he, out of respect for her.

Le Batard obviously has to make the decision best for him and his family, but he would provide a worthwhile voice of any ESPN content about MLB’s trip to Cuba. From years of brilliant Miami Herald columns to his wildly successful radio show, he has always found sharp perspectives on complicated issues, and his connection to Cuba uniquely qualifies him to comment on the MLB arrangement. Should Le Batard and his family make the historical trip, it would seem logical that ESPN would document the trip for something like SC Featured, a 30 for 30 short, or maybe even a piece on The Undefeated.

In April 2014, he wrote a supremely insightful column about Yasiel Puig and the transition to the U.S. for Latin-American baseball players.

If you’re interested in hearing more of Le Batard’s thoughts on Cuban-American relations and his decision on whether or not to go on the MLB trip, you can find the whole radio segment here, starting about two minutes in.


Alex Putterman

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a D.C.-based writer who has worked for MLB.com, SI.com, the Hartford Courant, Baseball Prospectus, Land of 10, VICE Sports and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.