American baseball teams heading to Cuba and playing several exhibition matches in the future is closer to becoming a reality than a dream for sports lover on the island.
Rob Manfred, the new Major League Baseball commissioner, said they are already talking with the U.S. government about the possibility. He said Tuesday, that while there was no specific timeframe for it actually happening, he envisions ongoing exhibition game activity with the communist country.
"Cuba is a great market for us two ways," Manfred said. "It's obviously a great talent market. We've seen enough of that during the offseason. It's a country where baseball is embedded in the culture and we like countries where baseball is embedded in the culture."
These conversations follow President Barack Obama’s announcement in December that the U.S. was re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba in more than five decades.
Major league teams visited Cuba before Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959, and the Baltimore Orioles played Cuba's national team in Havana in March 1999. Cuba's proximity, just 90 miles from Florida, makes quick trips possible.
"It is some place that would be feasible for us to do in an ongoing basis," Manfred said. "I think that people view Miami as sort of a jumping-off point to Latin America. I do see Latin America as a place where baseball already has great popularity but also has a great potential for growth from an international perspective."
The Marlins played exhibition games in Panama (last year) and Mexico City (2004) and played a regular-season series against the New York Mets in San Juan, Puerto Rico (2010). They traveled to Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004 for regular-season games against the Montreal Expos, who played a portion of their home schedule on the island.
MLB has opened its season at Tokyo (2000, '04, '08 and '12), Monterrey, Mexico (1999), San Juan (2001) and Sydney (2014).
There were 25 Cuban-born players in the major leagues last season, including stars Yasiel Puig, Yeonis Cespedes and Jose Abreu, up from eight in 2007 and the most since 1970, according to STATS.
Manfred envisions expanding MLB's presence in Latin America.
"It's great to go someplace and play a couple of games," Manfred said. "It generates interest here domestically. But when I think about international activity I want to do more than play two games someplace and go back five years later."
Manfred said Miami's record $325 million, 13-year contract with slugger Giancarlo Stanton reflects the health of the sport and the commitment of the Marlins' ownership to Miami.
He said MLB plans to take an active role in promoting young stars like the 25-year-old Stanton, who led the NL with 37 home runs last season.
"I think we a have a group of young payers, and Giancarlo is one of them, that are tremendously appealing because of their amazing ability on the field and the type of human beings they are off the field," Manfred said.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.