Cuba and the U.S. differ on a lot of subjects. But they share at least one thing in common: the love of baseball. Baseball is the most popular sport in Cuba. Many Cuban children dream of one day playing in the MLB. However, due to the historically toxic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, this dream is nearly impossible to achieve.
For many years, the only chance a Cuban citizen had at playing in the MLB was defecting from Cuba. Defecting means leaving your family and country forever. However, MLB and Cuban government officials struck a deal in 2018, forever changing the aspirations of young hopefuls in Cuba.
How many MLB players are Cuban defectors?
MLB has a long history of Cuban defectors entering the league. Since the mid-’90s, there have been over 80 Cuban defectors to play in the MLB, reports Baseball-Reference. There have been even more playing in the minors. Notable Cuban Defectors in the league today include Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes.
Defecting to the U.S. can be quite dangerous. Many defect through illegal smugglers and face the threat of kidnapping, desertion, or even death. Yet, many young Cubans still risk it. MLB pitcher Rolando Arrojo made the life-changing decision to defect from Cuba in 1996. He ultimately made his decision to pursue his dream of playing in the MLB.
Rolando Arrojo’s life in Cuba and MLB career
Arrojo was one of the most dominating pitchers in the Cuban National Series, reports MLB.com. While on the mound for his team, Villa Clara, they won three consecutive championships from 1993-95. He also led the Cuban National Team to a Gold Medal victory in the ’92 Olympics in Spain. Despite a successful career in Cuba, his ultimate goal was to play in the US.
Once Arrojo defected to the U.S., his dream became a reality. After a brief one-year stint in the minors, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays called him up. Arrojo had so little knowledge of the MLB he did not even know the Devil Rays were an expansion team and playing their inaugural season. However, Arrojo did not care. He got the opportunity to live his childhood dream.
Arrojo finished his first season second in AL Rookie of the Year votes. After a few seasons, the Devil Rays traded him to the Rockies. He finished his career with the Red Sox a few years later. Not to mention, he was also an MLB All-Star during his rookie season. Looking back on his decision to defect from Cuba, Arrojo has no regrets.
The historic deal with Cuba and how it affects the Cuba Protection Act
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Cuban Protection Act into law in 1966. The CAA allows Cuban citizens to receive permanent citizenship in the US. Despite the landmark legislature, there was no safe and legal process outlined for Cuban immigration in the CAA.
Many Cuban immigrants were refugees, resorting to dangerous transportation methods to get into the US. This was the case for so many young Cuban baseball players trying to get to the US.
However, the deal between MLB and Cuba changes the challenges of leaving Cuba. For the first time, there is an established safe and legal process for entering the US.
Under the agreement, Cuban players over 25 and have played in the Cuban league for six years are eligible to sign with an MLB team. All the MLB has to do is pay a “release fee” to the Cuban team. The agreement is in effect until 2021 and will hopefully lead to further connections between the US and Cuba.