The group Caribbean Baseball Initiative, led by Lou Schwechheimer, a veteran minor league executive, has traveled around in Cuba several times now, to see if they can find people who want to step in a joint venture to bring professional baseball back to Cuba.
Trips full of talking and especially full of listening. The group wants to do this in a respectable way. They don’t want to be seen as the Americans who are hungry for money.
Since the American government has made the first steps to normalize the relationship with Cuba, Cuban baseball is hot. Cuban baseball is wanted.
Earlier you could read several articles on the subject: For example about the Biloxi Shuckers’ owner who wanted to organize a yearly baseball week and invite a Cuban team. Or about the Atlantic League being interested in placing a franchise on Cuba. Next year the Cuban national team will play a series vs every team of the CanAm League.
In the past decade Schwechheimer has gathered plenty of money. He has secured the rights of Minor League Baseball to bring back professional baseball to Havanna and he has obtained the necessary licensing from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. And even though Schwechheimer says that no team will be moved to Havanna, he has gained a majority share in the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Pacific Coast League (AAA) and in the Charlotte StoneCrabs of the Florida State League (A Advanced). He also gained a minority share in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (AAA International League). According to Schwechheimer, the teams may be a part in some goodwill activities; an AAA All Star Game may be one of them.
But the Caribbean Baseball Initiative has gathered enough funds to acquire another minor league team that may end up in Cuba.
The question that I have asked before is “How will Minor League Baseball survive in Cuba?” The common man in Cuba earns only a fraction of what the common man in the USA earns. To remain financially independent, the club needs to generate money. But you cannot sell tickets which are too expensive. Goal for Schwechheimer is to create affordable family entertainment. A new team in Cuba will create jobs. And even Cuban players can play on the team if they make the roster. But in the latter case, they have to be linked to MLB clubs. Certainly, a way has to be found to arrange that.
But even if the group will buy a club that can be moved to Cuba, it can still take a lot of time before the final step can be taken. Cuban bureaucracy can be a tough hurdle to take. Also there can be some hard-liners who do not want to do business with the “gringos”. The distrust between the two countries that lasted over fifty years, is not something that can be lifted at once. It takes time.
But baseball crazed Cuba may be best approached with baseball. That is the binding factor between two countries that alienated from each other after the Cuban Revolution. Baseball may be THE tool to break the ice. As the Caribbean Baseball Initiative toured the country, a Cuban official said that they wanted to build a Hall of Fame of Cuban baseball. the CBI offered them to help. It is just a small gesture but it may turn out to be a very important one.
Perhaps it will take years before Minor League Baseball can land in Cuba, so patience is needed. But that is exactly what Lou Schwechheimer and his group have.