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USA says Baseball with Cuba is OK. Cricket is not.
by Venu Palaparthi
Dec 27, 2007
USA - Baseball is OK. Cricket is not.

Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hernandez, Danys Baez, Jose Contreras, Alay Soler, Yuniesky Betancourt, Kendry Morales - all are Cuban baseball players in USA's major leagues. All would be playing baseball in Cuba right now had they not defected to USA.

Over 150 Cubans have played baseball in the MLB. The number would be higher if it were not for USA's and MLB's policy of rewarding only those players who take a scenic route. A Cuban ballplayer must deal with USA's wet foot/dry foot policy for immigration and also Major League Baseball's regulations which puts Cuban players in the amateur draft whereas all other foreign players are deemed free agents who can sign with the highest bidder. This forces Cubans to seek residency of third countries, such as Mexico or Costa Rica, and apply for free-agent status.

Yuniesky Betancourt's story is mindblowing! He fled Cuba in 2003 in a 28-foot Baja speedboat bound for the Florida Keys via Bahamas. Once in USA, it is believed that he was driven to Tijuana, where he boarded a plane for Mexico City with a false passport. He spent three weeks in a Mexican jail for passport related reasons before being released. He eventually made his way back to USA. As free agent, he landed a $3.65 million contract with the Mariners. Betancourt is now completely occupied in advancing that American heritage of baseball.

According to Oneri Fleita, a Cuban American who is the director of player development for the Chicago Cubs. "They get on rafts and risk their life. That's what our country is about, living the dream."

Simply not cricket

Even as Cubans in MLB are cheered, Cuban cricketers were recently denied the opportunity to showcase their talent.

That is right, Cuba was denied the opportunity to play in the Stanford Twenty20 cricket tournament in the West Indies. That is because Sir Allen Stanford, as an American citizen, must receive special permission from the USA Government to conduct any type of activity with Cuba. Stanford’s application was not approved.

The Stanford organization announced last week that Cuba will not be playing their first match against St. Maarten on January 25. "We were looking forward to seeing what the heavily baseball-influenced nation could do with a cricket bat," Sir Allen said. "We have been anxious to include the entire Caribbean in the Stanford Twenty20 Cup, and I am extremely disappointed that Cuba will not be able to play."

It is all the more baffling because the Cuban national baseball team was allowed by USA to play in the country last year. Although their participation in the World Classic baseball event was not smooth, they were allowed to participate. Playing at the Petco Park in the MLB World Classic Baseball final against Japan, the Cubans lost in front of a sold-out crowd of over 40,000 spectators.

"What Cuba has shown to the world is not only that we could play up to par with other major leaguers," outfielder Frederich Cepeda said after the final. "We don't get paid for doing this. We deserve a high place in baseball because we do this with sacrifice, with human value and courage and sportsmanship, and because we give our utmost in order to come to the field and show what good baseball is all about."

These lines about courage and sportsmanship apply to Cuban cricketers even more than Cuban baseballers. After all, Cuban cricket does not enjoy even a fraction of the popularity that baseball does.

Needless to say, news of Cuba's inability to play in the West Indies for non-sporting reasons was a huge disappointment to the Cuba's cricketers. Their cricket team has been training intensely with the help of West Indies fast bowling legend Courtney Walsh for what was to be their first official competition outside of their homeland.

Stanford Twenty20 is requesting that the denial from the United States Government be reconsidered.

It is hoped that USA will allow Cuban cricketers to participate in Stanford Twenty20 just as USA has allowed Cuban baseballers to participate in the World Classic. After all, Stanford Twenty20 is to Caribbean cricket fans what World Classic baseball is to Caribbean baseball fans.

More Views by Venu Palaparthi
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