The Tampa Bay Rays went to Havana to play the Cuban National team and Raisel Iglesias is working out in Goodyear, Arizona but with an eye on his homeland.
The 26-year old defected from Cuba in 2013 and hasn’t seen his father since. When he was asked about the game today in Havana, his eyes lit up. Iglesias answered questions about the game through interpreter, Tomas Vera, with enthusiasm.
When he arrived in Goodyear back n February, he said that he had no reason to return to Cuba. With this historic game being played today, Iglesias seems to have second thoughts.
“If the opportunity comes true, and the Reds play in Cuba,” Iglesias said. “I would like to be the first to be there. Going back to my homeland and playing against the National Team in Cuba would be something incredible.”
The game’s impact goes beyond the final score.
The United States cut off diplomatic ties to Cuba in April 1961. Until President Obama went to Cuba for the game, no U.S. president has been to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
“I believe that this is something incredible,” Iglesias said. “It is good for the people from Cuba as well as the baseball players. It is good for the players who are going to be part of the game today and the Cuban players in this country. It is something really beautiful. I would love to be part of that right now.”
Cuban players have defected from Cuba in increasing numbers over the last 20 years. It was a decision that meant choosing between family and baseball. That is likely to change soon.
“I still have family. It has been about four years since I left Cuba. I believe that they way things are going, the Cuban players can go back to Cuba and play for the National Team.”
The Reds because of its connection through the Sugar Kings have had several players from the island, 90 nautical miles from Miami.
Leo Cardenas, Tony Gonzalez, Cookie Rojas, Elio Chacon and Mike Cuellar came through the Reds system. One of the main pieces of the Big Red Machine, Tony Perez, came to the U.S. around that time. Perez didn’t play for the Sugar Kings but was in the Reds farm system at lower levels at the time of the revolution, he played in Geneva, New York in the Reds’ system in 1960 before the relationship between the countries broke down.
Tony’s son, Eduardo, is at the game in Havana with a crew from ESPN. He is sending back pictures on Facebook. He met cousins for the first time in his life. It was natural that Iglesias and Perez became friends because of the common background.
“Eduardo is a great person,” Iglesias said.. We have a good friendship. I have really, really good relationship with his dad. I was able to talk with him for an hour when he was in Cincinnati for the ceremony when they built his statue.”
Iglesias was aware of the Perez and the Big Red Machine even though communication with the United States was discouraged.
“In Cuba, when you achieve glory in the sport, everyone will recognize you,.” Iglesias said.
Iglesias still has contact with many of the players on the National Team with the internet obliterating international boundaries. Now he sees opportunities that were unthinkable there years ago. Iglesias excitement about the improved relationship between the countries is evident.
“Almost every single one of those playing here today were teammates on the National Team. And the others played in the National League and we played against them,“ Iglesias said. “I talked to my Cuban teammates when they came over for the Caribean World Series and through the internet, facebook and instagram. I have a good relationship with the guys on the team.”
“I will be watching. I have to workout but I will be watching as much as I can. I think it will be a beautiful game.”