Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig's Untold Journey to the Dodgers
For close to a year Puig had been trying to force an answer, to extract himself from Fidel Castro’s state-run sports machine, which paid him $17 a month, and sneak across the tropics to a mythical north, where even benchwarmers lived like kings. Two, three, four times, maybe more, he had risked everything and fled, only to be detained by the Cuban authorities or intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard—each failure making the next attempt more urgent. Finally, in June 2012, the 21-year-old outfielder left his home in Cienfuegos, on Cuba’s southern shore, and set off by car for the northern province of Matanzas, just 90 miles from Florida. He was traveling with three companions: a boxer, a pinup girl, and a Santeria priest, the latter of whom blessed their expedition with a splash of rum and a sprinkle of chicken blood.
Cuban players have long been a mainstay in baseball. After Fidel Castro made it impossible for people to leave the island, the flow of players stopped to a drip. That changed with the defection of Rene Arocha in 1991. [more inside]
Omedetou! Japan beat Cuba 10-6 to win the first World Baseball Classic. The team was coached by Sadaharu Oh, one of the great stars of the Japanese leagues (868 home runs to boot), and featured the talents of a few Japanese players who have made the jump to American ball--Ichiro Suzuki and Akinori Otsuka. Is the World Series now an outdated misnomer?
By now, we know the story: first the U.S. Treasury department wouldn't let Cuba participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, only to change their mind later. Whether to play ball with Cuba or not has been debated since at least 1975, when then-commissioner of baseball Bowie Kuhn contacted Henry Kissinger about plans to arrange a game between U.S. and Cuban teams, prompting this now-declassified exchange (made available through George Washington University's National Security Archive.) Indeed, sport and politics are often intertwined in the Case of Contemporary Cuban Baseball.