Major League Stars in Havana / Ivan Garcia


Ken Griffey Jr, with young ballplayers in Havana

Monday night, February the 10th, two Cuban journalists were invited to the welcoming reception Mr. John Caulfield–head of the USA Interest Section in Cuba–offered in his residence to three major league baseball players, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin y Joe Logan.

The journalists who had opportunity to talk with these three legends of  American baseball  were Daniel Palacios Almarales, former sports writer for Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) and collaborator on the website Café Fuerte, and me, who started in independent journalism in 1995 writing about sports. In addition to journalists we are bloggers. Palacios has a blog, Visor Cubano, and I have two, From Havana and The blog of Iván García and his friends.

Among the guests there were also grand old names from Cuban sports, such as Tony Gonzalez, a shortstop of great scope who in the 60s played with the Industriales team.

For two and a half hours, in a free-flowing environment, those present not only could greet Griffey, Larkin and Logan, but also take advantage of the fact that they were signing balls and books. And, certainly, to leave with graphic witness of an unrepeatable occasion. By request of my colleague Palacios, I shot a couple of photos of him next to Larkin and Griffey.

Thanks to an official from the Interest Section, I was able chat brief with Ken Griffey Jr., the most enjoyed of the night for his amiability and simplicity. And for his elegance, in spite of being dressed in a simple long sleeved white shirt and black trousers.

Griffey was satisfied with his trip to Havana. He enjoyed everything: the spontaneous meeting with dozens of fans at Central Park; talking baseball with people and participating in the training of a group of baseball playing kids in Liberty City, and in the Havana municipality of Marianao.

With regards to the Cuban players in the Big Leagues, he said when he played a season with the Chicago White Sox, he met the shortstop Alexia Ramirez, “and excellent person and a great professional, very meticulous in his training.”

The former stars of the Big Leagues, return to the United States on Thursday,  13 February. Before leaving, they will probably be received by Antonio Castro.

Apart from being a son of his father, Tony Castro, as he is called, is the vice-president of the Cuban Federation of Baseball and principal strategist of the new government policy of authorizing Cuban athletes to play in professional clubs of different countries and continents.

Though the topic was not mentioned in the conversation, both Griffey Jr. and I are aware that in these moments, due to  the United States embargo on Cuba, players living on the island cannot be signed by Major League teams in the U.S.

Maybe the diplomacy of the baseball will contribute to a political thaw, an inheritance of the Cold War, which for over more than five decades has maintained tense and at times aggressive relations between Cuba and the United States.

Iván García

Video: Ken Griffey Jr during with a group of children, in Liberty City, Marianao, Havana. Taken by Cubadebate.

Translated by: Rafael

15 February 2014