Jose Fernandez said it would be his “dream” to return to Cuba in a big-league uniform.
Adeiny Hechavarria echoed the same sentiment.
The Marlins’ two Cuba-born players may soon get their wish now that the U.S. is working toward re-establishing diplomatic relations with the island nation, a baseball hotbed.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the league is looking into expanding into offshore markets, with Cuba being just one of the countries under consideration.
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“We are in conversations with the [U.S.] government about Cuba,” Manfred told reporters during a visit to the Marlins’ spring training camp. “Cuba is a great market for us in two ways. Obviously it’s a great talent market. [And] it’s a country where baseball is embedded in the culture.”
Manfred didn’t rule out the possibility of eventually playing some spring training games in Cuba, as well as the World Baseball Classic.
“I can envision a situation, assuming that is consistent with the government’s policy on Cuba, where we could have ongoing exhibition game activity in Cuba,” he said.“We’re going to follow the government’s lead on when it makes sense for us to try to play some games there.”
If that became the case, Fernandez, the Marlins’ pitching ace who defected from Cuba in 2008, said he would jump at the chance to play on his native soil for the first time since he was a teenager.
“It would mean the world to me to pitch there,” Fernandez said. “I can’t even explain what it would mean to the people there.”
Said Hechavarria: “I think it’s perfect. I want that.”
Baseball in Cuba wasn’t the only topic discussed by Manfred. He also touched on the Miami market and Giancarlo Stanton, whom the Marlins locked up to a $325 million contract over the winter.
Marlins Park was recently awarded the 2017 All-Star game, and Manfred said he views South Florida as prime territory to expand the league’s influence in Latin America.
“I think we are focused on the Hispanic fan base,” Manfred said. “We hope that the efforts we’ve undertaken there, our new marketing campaign directed at Hispanic-Americans, that they take root in Miami. It’s a good place for us to test our ideas about growth.”
As for Stanton’s record contract, Manfred said this:
“I see the contract as a sign of the current ownership’s commitment to Miami, and I see Miami as a really important market to us expanding the game into Latin America,” he said.
Manfred also said the size of Stanton’s contract signals the strength of the sport.
“I think that numbers like that on player contracts, I see as a reflection of the health of the game in terms of the revenues that are generated,” he said. “Obviously, players get paid that because it’s consistent with the revenues that are being generated in the game, so I see it a sign of health.”