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US, Cuba Spar Over Shared Love in Baseball

  • VOA News

Tampa Bay Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, left, and retired Cuban player Michel Ford (25) hold a baseball clinic for Cuban children the day before the Rays are to play an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016.

Tampa Bay Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, left, and retired Cuban player Michel Ford (25) hold a baseball clinic for Cuban children the day before the Rays are to play an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday will attend a baseball game in Havana that is meant to help bridge the historic divide between the two countries.

But the shared passion of two nations for the game of baseball does not seem enough to quell the controversy over the talent drain from Cuba, which has lost many star players to the lucrative U.S. market.

Baseball officials from both countries are in talks to try to work out a system that would allow Cuban players to offer their services to U.S. teams without abandoning their country.

Cubans playing for Major League Baseball in the United States do so most often by risking their lives to escape on boats, often with the intervention of smugglers.

FILE - Workers are seen at the Latinoamericano baseball stadium ahead of an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and U.S. team Tampa Bay Rays, in Havana, Cuba, March 16, 2016.

FILE - Workers are seen at the Latinoamericano baseball stadium ahead of an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and U.S. team Tampa Bay Rays, in Havana, Cuba, March 16, 2016.

Both sides would like to put an end to that practice, but they don’t agree on how. They do agree that lifting the U.S. economic embargo on the island is key to any deal working out.

One key sticking point is that while Cuba now allows some players to compete in foreign leagues, they are legally on loan from the Cuban Baseball Federation, which takes a cut of their salaries.

Paying money directly to the Cuban government would violate the U.S. embargo under its current form.

Tuesday's game

But even as the negotiations continue and hopes rise that the détente begun by Obama will mean a brighter future for the game, all will be momentarily forgotten Tuesday as the Tampa Bay (Florida) Rays take on Cuba's national team at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 UTC) at Estadio Latinoamericano.

Accompanying Obama to Cuba, and to the game, are Rachel Robinson, the widow of baseball star Jackie Robinson, and their daughter Sharon Robinson. The two flew aboard Air Force One.

Robinson played in Cuba in 1947.

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