Baseball & Fidel Castro
The late communist dictator who threw political curve balls on the world stage for 50 years mixed baseball and revolution like a mojito cocktail.
Historically, baseball was ingrained into the Cuban soul like music, rum and tropical breezes. The Cuban League was founded in 1878 and racially integrated in 1900, decades before blacks and whites in the U.S. hit the field together.
American players routinely traveled to the island for winter baseball and spring training, while minor league teams like the Havana Sugar Kings fed Cuban talent into the majors.
As a youngster, Castro himself was enamored with sports though seeming to prefer basketball over baseball which he later explained was closer to the way guerrilla warfare is waged- with cunning, speed and agility.
But it's the baseball legend that followed the bearded leader.
Stories have it that the future strongman was scouted by Major League Baseball for his pitching arm and was even offered a $5,000 contract to play for the NY Giants, which he turned down.
Though there was some substance to his throwing ability, Fidel the hurler was never good enough for the majors and such tales were manufactured first by American writers and scouts and then by his inner-circle to bolster the myth behind the man.
Once entrenched in power, "El Jefe" nationalized private enterprise and officially dissolved professional baseball in February, 1961.
Gone were the dollars behind the sport and up came the Cuban banner with free entry tickets to every game. Baseball was turned into an amateur pursuit dedicated to revolutionary ideals and a natural force for Castro to thumb his nose at the U.S.
In the years that followed, Cuba won three gold and two silver medals in baseball at the Olympics, while the U.S. earned only one gold and two bronze.
The island-nation also took home 18 Baseball World Cup championships in amateur competitions around the world, more than any other country by a wide margin.
Perhaps the biggest impact Fidel had on American baseball was indirect. Similar to Cuban rum and cigars that were replaced and moved offshore for American consumption, so was the export of ball players.
By closing off the island for so many years, the blustery revolutionary also shut off the supply of abled Cuban athletes who filled American rosters.
As a consequence, the Cubanos were taken over by Dominicans who now make up the largest foreign-born contingency in the major and minor leagues.
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