Jose Abreu, best find Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, there Arnoldis Chapman: just a few of the 19 (on opening day) Cuban-born players who brightened the 2014 Baseball season. Most are surely wondering how the revamping of U.S. relations with the homeland will affect their status as exiles. Almost all sacrificed close contact with their families, a keenly felt hardship. Rey Ordonez, who defected from Cuba in 1993 and played seven seasons with the Mets, did not hide his problems adjusting to life away from his family. A new Cuban travel policy made it possible for Ordonez to return to the island in 2013. But he had retired as a player by then; were Ordonez still active, he might not have been welcome.
Americans able to make elusive travel arrangements have always been welcome in Castro’s Cuba. A group that included baseball fans made three visits several decades after the Fidel-led revolution seized power from corrupt Fulgencio Batista in 1959. At a playground near our Havana hotel on one trip, we saw a stickball game that replicated those played in schoolyards back home. Except: the rules required walking, not running, around the bases after a hit. At a well-played league game in the equivalent of a triple-A U.S. ballpark in the central part of the island, we and other fans were admitted free. A sign on the outfield fence explained why: “SPORTS IS A RIGHT” it said.
The record book details Team USA’s desire to keep Cuba within its “sphere of influence” – that is, indirect control – after the revolution. The friction that caused brought on the still-in-place trade embargo, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Missile Crisis. That the conflict, between two baseball-loving franchises, appears to be easing after 55 years, should be cheered by fans and non-fans alike.
– – –
The Feelings-Hurter: First, Phillies GM Ruben (tell-it-like-it-is) Amaro conceded that his team would be “rebuilding” this season; now, he says, flat out, that the team would be better off if a trade for Ryan Howard can be arranged. Howard’s big contract – he has $50 million coming to him through 2016 – makes that unlikely unless the Phils add lots of cash to the deal.
Tribal Quiescence: The Indians, who finished last in MLB attendance last season, are trailing far behind in post-season upgrading activity. Cleveland has added first baseman Brandon Moss from the A’s and free-agent pitcher Gavin Floyd, who went 2-2 in nine games with Atlanta in 2014. Two reasons for the inertia: money owed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Both are signed through 2016, Swisher due a total of $28 million, Bourn $24 mil. Both were injury-plagued busts last season: Swisher hit .208 and eight HRS in 97 games, Bourn .257 in 106. His vaunted running game was next to non-existent – 10 SBs in 16 attempts.
Batterymate Should Know: Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamachhia, on new Yankee pitcher Nathan Eovaldi: “At the end of the year he figured out how to throw a new pitch that is really going to help him. He throws hard and all of his pitches are hard, so this new pitch will help that out.” (quoted by the Globe’s Nick Cafardo)
(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey, can be found at perfectpitcher.org)