When the word “Cuba” comes off of someone’s lips, mystique, confusion and baseball do not linger too far behind. In Los Angeles, Yasiel Puig has emerged as the new marquee star for the Dodgers. Only a few hours up the coast, Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics just announced himself on the national stage by winning the 2013 Home Run Derby in style, as he launched balls at New York’s Citi Field unlike anything anyone has ever done.
For me, baseball resonates within, as I have found joy in watching both Puig and Cespedes, knowing the sacrifices they both made to get to this point. Yet, I was left with a sad feeling inside, knowing that the Cuban people wouldn’t witness these feats along with the fact that both players could not share their success with their people due to the non-existent relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Cuba’s policy has prevented the island’s star baseball players from playing in Major League Baseball. Any Cuban player that escapes the borders and plays professional baseball in this country is immediately written out of Cuban baseball history. They become ghosts of lore and heroes to young and upcoming Cuban ballplayers, as they represent the ultimate dream that is always out of reach.
Recently, it was major news when public Cuban television aired a Major League Baseball game for the first time in over 50 years, regardless of the fact that it was an old game between two teams that had no Cuban players. In a recent article that focused on the randomly aired MLB game, 67-year-old Diego Sierra told the AP: “It’s interesting to see how they play, but I can’t say it thrilled me all that much because I don’t know any of the players . . . I would really like to see the Cubans, see how they are developing in that league.”
For the past two years, I have been going back and forth to Cuba, legally, making a documentary film. My trips to Cuba focused on two things — family and baseball, as I attempted to become the first foreigner, let alone Cuban American, to play baseball in Cuba since 1961. My documentary, The Cuban Dream, represents baseball as a way to connect the two countries by bonding through a common love. I witnessed many truths in Cuba, but I saw and heard firsthand the wealth of knowledge “ los fanaticos” of Parque Central in Havana have and know about American baseball.
My teammates and friends in Cuba are infatuated with American baseball, as our conversations always reverted back to questions of curiosity and details about Major League Baseball and the players that represent the Utopian dream. However, there exists a harsh reality, as this dream is only attainable through the ultimate sacrifice of risking your life, leaving your family, and forgetting your country.
Because if you’re caught — you could be punished by never being allowed to play baseball again (a minor punishment) or serve up to 25 years in Cuban jail for “human trafficking” — like one up and coming shortstop, who at 19 was caught trying to leave the island.
The cocoon that the Castro government has created instills fear, limits freedoms, and prevents the free flow of information. All are key ingredients that help support and encourage people to pursue their goals and dreams. I can only praise Yasiel Puig and Yonenis Cespedes, for they are living the Cuban dream. Regardless of U.S. policies, it would behoove Cuba to have an infrastructure that allows its citizens to pursue their dreams.
The greatest representations of Cuba are these athletes, proving that the best of Cuba can compete with the world’s best on one of the world’s greatest stages. The Cuban people are the definition of ingenuity for what they have been able to accomplish under such a limited system. If Cuba could only open up to the idea of possibility and share its people with the rest of the world, then they too could share in the simple joy of watching its best compete and win on the national stage.
Luke Salas is the producer of the documentary film, “The Cuban Dream,” which will be released at the end of 2013. More at www.thecubandreammovie.com.