America’s Favorite Pastime, Part 2 of 3: Immigration in Baseball – Rewriting the Rulebook


Baseball Isn’t Dangerous, Right?

Would you raft through shark-infested waters to play baseball? Would you risk being kidnapped? Would you subject another person to the possibility of death threats for the sake of allowing you to keep playing the sport? Well, for Cuban baseball players, the answer to those types of questions has overwhelmingly been “Yes!” Jose Fernandez, a star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, did indeed brave the shark-filled waters of the Straits of Florida. Can you blame him for having a huge smile on his face when he became a U.S. citizen in April? No more sharks!


In an attempt to reach the U.S. Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, meanwhile, was kidnapped and held for ransom during his own immigration ordeal. Most recently, 16-year-old Cuban player Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros saw his agents subjected to death threats over disagreements about Lazarito’s future.


U.S.-Cuba Relations: Not So Friendly

The common thread among most Cuban MLB players is that they experienced extremely difficult conditions at some point in their journeys to the U.S. Because of the contentious relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, for many years immigration was especially difficult for Cuban players. Except in special cases, Americans and Cubans were not permitted to travel between the two countries, so Cubans had to illegally escape (defect) in order to reach the U.S. As a result, Cuban players often faced much greater obstacles than players who emigrated from more distant countries.


Is Peace Around the Corner?

However, the relationship between the governments of Cuba and the U.S. has improved in recent years. In late 2014, President Obama announced that the two countries would begin to take steps toward normal diplomatic relations with each other, a drastic shift from the hostility between the two countries for over 50 years. In March, Obama even traveled to Cuba to watch an exhibition game in which the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Cuban National Team by a score of 4-1. US-cuba-handshake Many people believe that this progress between the American and Cuban governments could drastically improve conditions for Cuban players traveling to play in MLB. Let’s all hope so - the only time an immigrant should be subjected to sharks, kidnappings, or death threats is in a Hollywood film.