Team full of Cuban stars are grateful to be able to join

There, they put on their uniforms and remembered their home country this week. They were joined by both prospects and retired players, who also wore blue caps with small Cuban flags and a darned legend.

“Homeland and Life,” it said.

The group of players, most of whom were born in Cuba but defected from the island, called themselves the Cuban Professional Baseball Federation (FEPCUBE). More recently, it adopted the nickname “Dream Team.”

He stated that he aspired to represent the ideals of “free and independent” Cubans, but without the endorsement of the island’s political and sports authorities.

“We represent something bigger than ourselves,” said manager Brayan Peña.

It has not been the case that a Cuban team that has declared itself independent from the authorities of that country has participated in an international competition. However, FEPCUBE hoped to change that later this month during a pageant in Colombia.

Those plans were thwarted this week, when organizers announced the cancellation of the tournament, for reasons beyond their control. The Olympic Committee and the Colombian sports authorities had ignored the legitimacy of the FEPCUBE team, a decision praised by the Cuban Baseball and Softball Federation (FCBS).

The club is not affiliated with the FCBS. Its promoters had agreed to play under the name “Dream Team” and renounce the slogan of “Patria y Vida” after the Colombian sports authorities denied the endorsement and condemned the use of the Cuban flag and other symbols of the country.

“Sometimes things happen in life that you have no control over,” said FEPCUBE president Armando Llanes Jr. “We must move forward. The opportunities from now on for us are many, to be worried and thinking about what happened now.”

The goal for the team of thirty members remains the same.

“We are representing free Cubans,” said Peña, who is also a minor league manager in the Detroit Tigers organization. “We are representing something that we all carry in our hearts, and that is our people. “Those are the people we love and those are the people who have sacrificed so much for us.”

The mission attracted several major league talents this week.

On Tuesday, during a practice, Chapman, a seven-time All-Star, appeared. He threw pitches to a coach for about half an hour.

Jorge Soler, the 2021 World Series MVP, hit balls into the outfield during batting practice. Batting champion and Gold Glove winner Yuli Gurriel fielded alongside his younger brother Lourdes Jr. before pausing to sign autographs and take photos.

Preparation continued, despite the cancellation, of the so-called Intercontinental Series in Barranquilla, a city on the Colombian Caribbean coast. The team of Cuban emigrants was supposed to compete with teams from Colombia, Japan, Curacao, South Korea and the United States.

This dispute highlights the complex intersection between sports and politics.

The Colombian government withdrew from the tournament this month, due to the participation of the Cuban team. He clarified in a statement that it was a private event that did not have his endorsement.

The Colombian Ministry of Sports rejected the “actions and demonstrations” of FEPCUBE to use the name, representation and national symbols of Cuba, without the authorization of the island, nor the “recognition” of the Colombian government or its sports authorities.

“The use of these symbols would be interpreted as a clear infringement of the constitutional and sporting rights of the Republic of Cuba,” the Ministry warned.

Baseball is the main sport in Cuba, but the island’s talent and competitiveness have declined in recent years. Hundreds of Cuban players have defected to play in other nations.

The island has largely banned professional sports since shortly after the Cuban Revolution, 65 years ago. Modest payments from the government are offered to star baseball players for their participation in the national team.

Longstanding U.S. sanctions make it virtually impossible for Cubans to play professionally for a U.S. team without defecting. Historically, Cuba has not allowed defecting baseball players to be part of its national team.

For the World Baseball Classic held last year in Little Havana, the enclave mostly inhabited by the Cuban community in Miami, the United States marked a milestone. For the first time, it allowed Cuban-born Major League stars to play for their country in the tournament.

The team, with its mixed roster of dropouts and baseball players residing on the island, was received with both sympathy and contempt in the city that is home to the largest population of Cuban origin in the United States.

On Wednesday, there were no mixed feelings when the Cuban team took the field at Miami Dade College, for its first exhibition game against that institution.

Numerous expatriates, proud of their roots but often also critical of the political oppression from which they fled, began arriving even two hours before the first pitch. Many were draped in Cuban flags or wearing Major League club jerseys.

Alberto Sarmiento, 36, has played baseball his entire life but said he has never identified with a team that represents him as a “free” Cuban.

“To me, this team means everything,” said Sarmiento, who traveled from Orlando to watch the game and was upset by the news of the tournament’s cancellation. “The fact is that they are against an entity that does not want them on the field at all. It doesn’t matter if they wear a white uniform. “I think everyone on that team is Cuban and they represent me.”

Hundreds of people watched the match in which the Cuban expatriate team defeated the college team 3-2. Some sat on the metal stands and jumped when the Cubans made a good play. Others pressed their faces against the fence that separated them from the players and shouted: “Long live Cuba!”

René Arocha starred in the first pitch ceremony. On July 10, 1991, Arocha was the first active player to defect from the Cuban national team. He left the campus during a stopover in Miami.

Eddie Oropesa, 52, a former major league player, threw some pitches during the game, wearing the same cap he wore in 1993, when he defected from the national team.

“This gave me a lot of emotion,” Oropesa said. “It reminded me of the hard work my family and I have done, and for that I will always be grateful.”

The future of the team is unclear after the cancellation of the tournament. Llanes said that the immediate goal is to celebrate the victory that comes with just forming this group.

“This is historic,” said Yuli Gurriel, who won the World Series twice with the Houston Astros. “Five or 10 years ago, people thought this would never happen. From the moment this was talked about I wanted to be part of it, and I have no regrets.”